Nicola Sturgeon has won an extraordinary landslide victory in the general election in Scotland after the Scottish National party crushed Labour, inflicting a series of humiliating defeats on the party’s leadership.
In a series of dramatic victories for the SNP that left Scottish Labour effectively decapitated and the Liberal Democrats reduced to a tiny handful of seats, Sturgeon’s party was on the brink of securing nearly all of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats.
The SNP swept aside once-unassailable majorities for Labour with swings as high as 35%, as voters threw out Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, its former deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, and Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary.
The avalanche also carried off Douglas Alexander, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary who had been in charge of Ed Miliband’s general election campaign. He was defeated by Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old politics student who has yet to finish her degree and who is now the youngest MP elected since 1667.
Alexander admitted Scotland’s voters had lost trust in the Labour party, which had started the campaign defending 41 seats, saying: “This has been a very difficult night for Labour.”
In the hours before the count, he and Murphy had believed they had survived, but the results showed that many Tory voters had failed to make a tactical, anti-nationalist switch to back Labour against the SNP.
The SNP landslide led to immediate demands from its victorious candidates for the next UK government to honour promises during last year’s referendum campaign to give the Scottish parliament significant tax, welfare and spending powers. They will press for the next generation of Trident nuclear weapons to be scrapped, and for spending cuts to be dramatically reduced.
Alex Salmond, the former SNP and first minister who won the fiercely contested former Lib Dem seat of Gordon with nearly half of the overall vote, said: “There is a lion roaring tonight, a Scottish lion. I don’t think any government, of any particular complexion, can ignore it.”
As news of the remarkable victories came in, Sturgeon arrived at the Glasgow count to loud cheers and applause from party supporters, and said: “The early indications are that this is going to be an extremely good night for the SNP.”
Sturgeon had earlier played down a shock exit poll predicting the SNP could take 58 out of Scotland’s 59 seats. She denied that the SNP’s rout of Labour had denied Ed Miliband victory in the election. “If that’s not possible, it’s because Labour has been unable to defeat the Tories in England,” she said.
The SNP’s hopes of wielding significant influence over the next UK government will be dashed with David Cameron’s expected victory over Labour; Sturgeon and Salmond have stated emphatically they will not deal with the Tories, greatly limiting their influence in the Commons.
If the final total of seats gave Labour, the SNP and other centre-left parties a larger total number than David Cameron could command, Sturgeon had said she would press Miliband to agree to an anti-Tory pact capable of preventing Cameron forming a government.
She insisted that the scale of the SNP’s expected victory increased the case for a centre-left anti-Tory alliance.
The rout left Labour without a single Westminster seat in Glasgow – a city which voted yes to independence last year but was once a party stronghold, until Ian Murray held Edinburgh South at 4.30am, with a substantially increased majority. Seats toppled in Edinburgh, Fife, Renfrewshire, central Scotland and along the Clyde.
The devastating results continued for Labour as seats were declared, with the party unable to hold a single seat by 4am as the SNP found itself after 20 seats declared taking 54% of the popular vote – exactly double Labour’s support at 27%.
The SNP surge – described by Salmond as a tsunami, nearly unseated the MP with the safest seat in Scotland – former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael. His 9,928 majority was slashed by the SNP to 817 votes.
The scale of the SNP’s victories had been forecast by an exit poll commissioned by the BBC, Sky and ITN, which quickly after polling ended indicated that the SNP was on course to win 58 of Scotland’s 59 seats. That prediction was so remarkable that even Sturgeon immediately urged caution after the poll, tweeting “I’d treat the exit poll with HUGE caution. I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!”
After watching his 10,000 vote majority in East Renfrewshire evaporate, Murphy said he “heartily congratulated” his successor Kirsten Oswald but indicated he wanted to remain Scottish Labour leader – a role that may not be permissable under the party’s rules as he is no longer a parliamentarian.
But in a clear warning to Sturgeon, he said: “This is of course an enormous moment for the SNP; no one can deny that. With victory on this scale, of course, also comes a responsibility. No one should ever confuse nationalism for their nation, no one should mistake your party for your country, because our nation, our streets, our flag won’t ever belong to one particular party or one particular cause.”
He added: “For me personally and for the Scottish Labour party, the fight goes on. I will continue to lead Scottish Labour as we fight on. Scotland needs a strong Labour party and our fightback starts tomorrow morning.”
Natalie McGarry, speaking to the Guardian after she defeated Curran, a veteran Labour MSP and MP, said she was feeling excited and a little overwhelmed by her victory, which saw a 30.7% swing from Labour to the SNP. “I don’t think anyone was expecting to see such an incredible swing towards the SNP right across Scotland. But we have been buoyed by the results we were getting on the doorstep and the sheer enthusiasm we were experiencing on the street stalls,” she said.
Alison Thewliss, who won a majority of more than 7,000 over former Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Saraw, said the SNP’s success was indicative of “a loss of faith in a Labour party that has drifted so far from the principles that it once held dear”. She added: “Scotland’s voice can and must be heard now because the people have spoken so strongly.”
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