Alex Salmond has been elected as the MSP for Aberdeenshire East, and seems certain to lead his party back into a second period of government, following a night of stunning successes for the SNP.
In a night of high drama, the SNP managed to win every single constituency in the North East - including Banffshire & Buchan Coast - sweeping away long-serving Lib Dem and Labour members in the process.
It was a scene repeated in many constituencies across Scotland, as once seemingly impregnable Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem seats fell victim to the unstoppable SNP tide.
Mr Salmond was returned as the MSP for Aberdeenshire East with a whopping 64.5% share of the vote. His nearest challenger, Lib Dem Alison McInnes, trailed in behind with just 14%. The Conservatives’ Geordie Burnett Stuart polled 4,211 votes - down 2.4 percent - while Labour’s Peter Thomas Smyth was fourth with 2,304 - down 0.1 percent.
Mr Salmond was soon followed by colleague Stewart Stevenson in the neighbouring Banffshire and Buchan Coast seat, who was returned with an even more emphatic 67.2% of the vote.
Michael Watt of the Conservatives polled 4,592 - up half a percent, while Labour’s Alan Duffill consigned the Liberal Democrat candidate Galen Milne to fourth spot with 2,642 votes compared to just 958.
In his victory speech, Mr Salmond paid tribute to the people of the North East, whom he described as the most generous, forthright people in the world, and also the most far-seeing.
“Once again, the North East of Scotland is leading the way for the whole country”, Mr Salmond said. “I hope after this result we’ll see an end to fearmongering, negativity and scaremongering in Scottish politics - no more insults to the intelligence of the Scottish people.
Referring to the National Party of Scotland - a forerunner to the SNP - he added: “Some 70 years and more later, the SNP can finally claim that we have lived up to that accolade as the national party of Scotland. We have reached out to every community across this country.”
And on the scale of the national victory, Mr Salmond vowed to use this mandate to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“It’s clear from the indications so far that it’s likely that the SNP has been bestowed trust by the Scottish people in a way that no party has before in a Scottish election”, he said.
“We’ll take that mandate and trust forward to increase the powers of our parliament. Just as the people have bestowed trust in us, we must also trust the people. In this term, we shall bring forward a referendum and trust the people with Scotland’s own constitutional future.”
Speaking after the declaration, Aberdeenshire East Liberal Democrat candidate Alison McInnes, who was returned on the North East regional list, expressed her disappointment at the drop in the Lib-Dem vote.
“It was a tough call against the First Minister, and would have been hard enough to do on a good day,” she said. “We fought a good, local campaign on my record of action. However, when it came to the national picture, we were always in a losing battle with the SNP riding high in the polls.”
Third-placed Conservative candidate Geordie Burnett Stuart said: “We nearly got second place, and for us, that would have been a triumph. However, this was more of a coronation than an election, with people voting for a First Minister rather than an MSP.
“I hope that the SNP/Tory co-operation from the last parliament continues into the new parliament, as the country will need Tory ideas put into practice.”
Labour candidate Peter Smyth, who trailed in fourth, offered his congratulations to Alex Salmond, adding that he felt the result represented a step forward for Labour in Aberdeenshire East.
“I’m proud of the positive campaign and the positive message that we fought locally. We engaged well, and have won votes where we have never won them before.
“It’s clear the Lib-Dems have suffered a catastrophe. People in Aberdeenshire who believe in progressive politics now have one choice, and that is to vote Scottish Labour.”
In Banffshire and Buchan Coast, SNP candidate Stewart Stevenson was delighted by the scale of the endorsement of his party.
“The campaign was a real debate of ideas with my Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat opponents and led to a decisive victory for the SNP.”, he said (see story below).
Labour candidate Alan Duffill was upbeat about his party’s performance. “The Labour vote held reasonably well”, he said. “Stewart Stevenson has a safe seat, and there was particularly marked SNP support in their own areas.
“We’d have liked to benefit from the collapse in the Lib Dem vote, but the fight goes on.”
For the Lib Dems, Galen Milne recognised what he said was a “great result” for the SNP, but sounded a warning about the difficulties which he felt would lie ahead for the new government.
“I’m very disappointed. It was always an uphill challenge, as the SNP have held this area for a long time”, he said. “I think the mood of the country underlined the SNP’s hold on this constituency.
“It will be very interesting to see how this translates into positive action to rebuild the Scottish economy, to see Scottish further and higher education properly funded, and to see how local services are maintained over the next five years, when the SNP has assured us that the council tax will be frozen for the lifetime of this parliament.”