The SNP has secured an unprecedented victory by taking a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament election.
Alex Salmond’s party passed the half-way point by taking its 65th seat in a historic win at Kirkcaldy, the first time gains on this scale have been achieved since the Parliament was established in 1999.
The decisive victory comes at the heavy expense of Labour in what were considered heartland territories, and with a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote.
With three regional lists to be declared, the SNP had 65 seats, with Labour trailing on 29 MSPs. The Conservatives had nine, the Lib Dems four and the Scottish Greens one. The win is further symbolic because Kirkcaldy was considered a solid Labour area, with the overlapping Westminster constituency held by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.
It also means a referendum on Scottish independence can now be pushed through the Holyrood chamber - a proposal which failed to gain majority support in the last parliament.
First Minister Mr Salmond is expected to deliver a victory speech in Edinburgh after a night of surprises across Scotland.
Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, who had already conceded that the SNP won the battle for Holyrood, hung on to his East Lothian seat by 151 votes. Mr Gray said: “It is now clear that the SNP has won the election, so early this morning I spoke with Alex Salmond to congratulate him on his victory.
“Labour has lost many talented representatives and it seems very likely that Labour’s new and returning MSPs will play their part in the democratic process in the Scottish Parliament from opposition, but will do so with gusto. Labour’s MSPs will work constructively with the new Scottish Government to create jobs and tackle unemployment wherever we can.”
Mr Gray won with 12,536 votes, compared with 12,385 for SNP challenger David Berry, who commanded a 3.1% swing away from Labour.
Shocks came quickly after polling stations closed, with major Labour politicians finding themselves out of a job. Seat after seat in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Edinburgh fell to the SNP, which also enjoyed a clean sweep of the entire north-east region. The electoral map of Scotland appeared drastically different, with swathes of SNP yellow stretching unbroken from the Borders in the south to Thurso on the north coast.
Candidates once thought of as potential Labour frontbenchers lost out, including former ministers Andy Kerr, Tom McCabe and Frank McAveety. Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie was unseated in Edinburgh Pentlands.
But the Lib Dems appeared the biggest losers, with heavy falls in the share of votes and a high number of lost deposits. Leader Tavish Scott held on to Shetland with a reduced share but his party was beaten in areas where it had previously enjoyed a comfortable majority. The party’s finance spokesman, Jeremy Purvis, was ousted by the SNP’s Christine Grahame, who took Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale with 43.51% of the vote.
Mr Salmond, who won Aberdeenshire East with about 64% of the vote, hailed the “spectacular” successes. He said wins across the country meant the SNP can now properly be described as the “national party”, represented in all parts of Scotland.
In 2007, the SNP beat Labour nationally by just one seat to become the largest party at Holyrood, forming a minority administration led by Mr Salmond.