The SNP will be the “leading and largest party” in the new Scottish parliament, deputy first minister John Swinney has declared – though he said it was still too early to say if the party would win an overall majority at Holyrood.
Swinney, also the education secretary in the Scottish government, comfortably held his Perthshire North seat, increasing his majority over the Tories.
His was among the first handful of seats to declare as votes were counted after polling day on Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic meant that traditional overnight counting was impossible, with the results instead being announced over the course of Friday and Saturday.
But Swinney said the SNP – led by Nicola Sturgeon – was on track for an “historic” fourth term in power at Holyrood.
He said: “It is an enormous pleasure to see the prospects of the return of an SNP government for a fourth historic term, given the scale of the vote that my party is experiencing the length and breadth of the country.”
With the SNP having used the election campaign to push for a second independence referendum, Swinney vowed he would “do all that I can” to “ensure that the people of Scotland have a choice on their future as they should have”.
While he said there was a “long way to go” before all the results are known, Mr Swinney insisted it was “beyond any doubt” the SNP would form the next government.
He added: “That is an absolutely gigantic feat for the Scottish National Party to have achieved, to be on the brink of a fourth continuous term.”
The first seat to be declared in the race for Holyrood was Orkney, with Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur holding on to the constituency for Willie Rennie’s party.
Minutes later, the SNP held Aberdeen Donside, with councillor Jackie Dunbar taking the seat previously filled by Mark McDonald – who resigned from the party after allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women.
Early results suggest turnout among voters was up from the last election in 2016.
The SNP went on to hold the Western Isles seat, with sitting MSP Alasdair Allan returned for Ms Sturgeon’s party, polling 7,454 votes.
It also held the Clydebank and Milngavie seat, with newcomer Marie McNair elected to replace Gil Paterson, who stepped down from Holyrood.
McNair was successful after securing 17,787 votes.
At the Glasgow count, Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf said members of an anti-vaccine party made a “beeline” for him due to his skin colour.
Derek Jackson, standing for the Liberal Party in Glasgow Southside, arrived at the count with supporters wearing black suits and yellow stars with “unvax” written on them, and claimed to be satirising “fascist SNP hate laws”.
After they approached Yousaf, members of other political parties joined the SNP to confront them.
Speaking to reporters after the incident, Yousaf said: “What I’m always struck by is voices of good always outweigh the voices of hatred.”