The 2015 General election was predicted to be on a knife edge, with the two major parties very close and the Scottish National Party with a large lead north of the border. But that’s not quite how it turned out. It was a long night, and here’s how it all turned out.
Shortly after the polls closed at 10pm the key exit poll was unveiled. Over 20,000 people across the UK had been asked who they actually voted for and the results gave a surprising prediction. The Tories were forecast to gain 316 seats, only just short of an overall majority. Labour was set for only 239 seats and the Lib Dems would be reduced to a mere 10 MPs. In Scotland the SNP was predicted to gain 58 of the 59 seats!
But was the poll accurate? At a UK level the forecast showed a clear Tory win rather than the very close result that all the previous opinion polls had shown. There was a general air of scepticism among most commentators. And in Scotland the expected very good SNP performance was predicted to become a massive victory. Even leading nationalists, including the First Minister, seemed to think it was far too good to be true.
By 10:20pm YouGov was predicting an outcome that seemed more in line with what most people and most commentators would have probably expected. They had the Tories on 284, Labour on 262, SNP on 49 and Lib Dems on 31.
It would be many hours before there was a clear idea of which was closer to the actual outcome of the election.
The first real result came in at 10:48pm, which is an incredibly quick count. Labour held the safe seat of Sunderland South with an increased majority and UKIP pushed the Tories into third. Sunderland Central and Sunderland West came next with both showing increased Labour majorities and strong UKIP showings. No great surprises were to come for a considerable time, but a pattern of Lib Dem collapse and UKIP increased votes appeared to develop in England.
In Scotland it gradually became certain that the SNP would indeed make large numbers of gains right across the country. Leads over Labour in west and central Scotland and over the Lib Dems in the Highlands were being widely reported from counts, with several big names and long standing MPs apparently heading for defeat.
Several stunning Scottish results began to come through just after 2am. The SNP gained Kilmarnock with a whopping 26% swing from Labour and Douglas Alexander was ousted from his Paisley seat on a 27% swing. These massive gains were to become the norm as seats in Dundee, Dunbartonshire, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Fife all went from Labour to the SNP in the space of ten frantic minutes with the television pundits trying to keep up. Dunbartonshire East was slightly different – this time it was Lib Dem junior minister Jo Swinson who was beaten by the SNP.
More SNP victories followed and at 3:10am came the next big scalp, with Labour’s Scottish leader Jim Murphy losing East Renfrewshire to the Nationalists on a 24% swing. And the gains kept coming across what had been known as the Labour heartlands in the west and central belt. Even seats in Glasgow followed the trend. The notion that Labour might lose every single one of the seven seats in the city would once have been laughed at. Now it was fast becoming a reality. Indeed the Nationalists took the first 38 seats to be declared before Alastair Carmichael held his Orkney and Shetland seat for the Lib Dems.
By 4:00am all attention seemed to have been focused on Scotland so far. Yet little of great note was actually happening in the rest of the UK. Labour had made just six gains, missing out on several target seats – and the Tories were also two seats up on 2010. Meanwhile the Lib Dems vote continued to crumble, seemingly splitting between the Conservatives and UKIP. Several of their seats had already gone with the likes of Simon Hughes and Ed Davey among those defeated. And worse was to come when Vince Cable lost Twickenham to the Tories, becoming the most senior minister to fall.
UKIP’s Douglas Carswell retained his Clacton seat, but it appeared he would be the only one from his party to win. Despite increasing its share of the vote across England it appeared that there would be no more victories with several targets missed – although leader Nigel Farage’s result in Thanet South had still to come.
North of the border, Labour finally won a seat at 4:27am when Ian Murray retained Edinburgh South. A return of a single MP from 48 seats declared was hardly much to celebrate though. The Tories will have felt relief when David Mundell held the single seat they were defending in Dumfriesshire, albeit with a much reduced majority.
As the night went on some big political names had mixed results. Mayor of London Boris Johnson won his safe seat, as expected, to return to the ranks of MPs. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg held on to his seat in Sheffield with a small majority, but one of his predecessors Charles Kennedy and cabinet minister Danny Alexander both fell to the SNP. Employment minister Esther McVey was one of the few senior Tories to fall, defeated by Labour in Wirral West.
Somewhere around 5:45am the Conservatives overtook Labour on seats won. The combination of Labour losses in Scotland and its failure to pick up target seats in England allied to a total Lib Dem collapse seemed to indicate that the exit poll wouldn’t be too far off the mark after all. With around 200 seats still to declare it appeared that only the scale of the Tory victory remained to be decided. Just how close to a majority would Cameron and co get? Was an absolute majority actually possible – beyond what even the exit poll had predicted?
By the time those who didn’t spend the night in front of a tv screen were preparing breakfast the Tories had taken a couple more seats from the Lib Dem in the South West of England. This made a Tory government with a small overall majority almost certain. So all of the talk of negotiations and uncertainty appears to have been for nothing, with David Cameron emerging in a better position than he had dared hope. He can look forward to planning a government without the need for any other party’s input.
At 7:25am the final Scottish result came in, with Lib Dem Michael Moore joining the ranks of the defeated. He actually fell to third place, behind not only the victorious SNP but the Tories as well. This means that the SNP have secured 56 seats in Scotland, leaving Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems with just a single seat each. This is a better result than the SNP could have ever expected, with a 50.0% share of the vote secured.
By 7:30am almost 600 of the 650 seats had declared. Things slowed down, althouhh there were a handful of very interesting seats still to be decided. Brighton Pavilion again returned Caroline Lucas as the sole Green MP with an increased majority, largely at the expense of yet another Lib Dem collapse. UKIP’s Mark Reckless lost out to the Tories, the party he left last year.
Perhaps the biggest casualty of the night was to be Ed Balls, who lost out by just 422 to the Conservatives in his Yorkshire seat after a recount. Another big name, UKIP’s Nigel Farage had to wait until 10:30am before discovering he had failed to take Thanet South from the Conservatives. This result will clearly have meant a lot to David Cameron.
Just before 11am, a full thirteen hours after the polls close, the Conservatives took Devon West, making a total of 323 seats. Taking out the Sinn Fein MPs who won’t take their seats and the Speaker, that numbers gave a theoretical majority to the Tories.
So with just a dozen or so results in far flung constituencies outstanding the final result seemed clear.
The Conservatives would secure a majority on 37& of the popular vote to Labour’s 31%. A lead of 6% or so, much more than any of the polls predicted. A great night for the SNP ended with 56 MPs, compared with just 6 going into this election. UKIP did very well in terms of share of the vote, attracting 3.8 million votes or almost 13% of the total cast – although that only equated to a single MP.
The Liberal Democrats were punished in brutal fashion for their backing of David Cameron’s party in the coalition. The party lost more than half of its votes, securing just 8% and being reduced from more than 50 MPs to single figures.
So what now for the defeated parties? There are bound to be calls for inquests, changes and resignations. The consequence of the Liberal Democrats’ participation in the coalition is a disastrous set of results, almost being wiped out and Nick Clegg isn’t expected to stay long as leader. Labour’s failure is also likely to see Ed Miliband resign, leaving what could be a very interesting contest to replace him. And in Scotland Jim Murphy’s position must surely be untenable. This could yet be an election that results in much more dramatic change than was expected.
David Cameron will now lead a government with a small majority, meaning whipping and party discipline will be very important. He will face an opposition made up of two dispirited parties and a large block of new Scottish Nationalist MPs who are sure to have plenty to say. Scotland’s place in the union will remain a big issue in the political short term.
The final outcome of this election may not be what too many people expected, but the new House of Commons is unlikely to be a dull place. David Cameron has a majority but he will govern a country that retains deep political divisions.