As counting continues in the UK election, results suggest David Cameron is set to remain prime minister. The SNP has registered record wins in Scotland - and produced the UK's youngest member of parliament in centuries.
Exit polls taken as voters left polling stations on Thursday put the Conservatives just a few seats from a majority in the House of Commons. There are326 seats needed
for a majority in the 650 seat house.
The exit polls suggested 316 seats for the Conservatives and 239 for Labour, a loss of 19 seats. Former coalition partners the Liberal Democrats were forecast to lose 47 seats and keep only ten, as their share of the vote collapsed. Energy Secretary Ed Davey lost his seat to the Conservatives.
Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told local television that it was a good night for her party: "This is shaping up to be an outstandingly good night for the SNP but I think a good night for Scotland. The tectonic plates of Scottish politics have clearly shifted - what we are seeing is a historic shift in Scottish political opinion," she said.
Sturgeon added: "It hasn't happened overnight, not even in the last seven months since the referendum, although that's accelerated the process, but Labour has been losing the trust of people in Scotland now over a period of years."
By early Friday, the SNP had won 50 seats, a gain of 44. The SNP's Mhairi Black won the Paisley and Renfrewshire South seat to become, at 20 years of age, Westminster's youngest MP since 1667.
Black, a student at Glasgow University, stood against one of the best-known Labour MPs in Scotland, Douglas Alexander, who was defending a majority of more than 16,000. He was shadow foreign secretary and Labour's UK campaign co-ordinator.
The result in Scotland had dramatic implications for the Labour Party and the future of its leader Ed Miliband. The party had held 41 seats in Scotland before the election. There were major swings, in excess of 30 percent in some cases, from Labour to the SNP. Jim Murphy, the party leader in Scotland, lost his seat as newspapers prepared headlines for Friday morning: "SNP crush Labour."
The right-wing,anti-Europe UK Independence Party
(UKIP) gained votes but not enough to win many seats. Former Conservative Party member Douglas Carswell won the seat for UKIP in Clacton in southeastern England:
Opinion polls during the six-week long election campaign suggested the Conservative and Labour parties were neck and neck. But they appear to have significantly underestimated support for the Conservatives and overstated it for Labour.
jm/gsw (Reuters, AP)