DAVID Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon are to hold historic face-to-face talks on the future of the United Kingdom, after the Conservatives confounded the opinion polls to win a surprise majority in the general election.
The First Minister said she and the Prime Minister had agreed in a brief telephone call to meet “as soon as possible” to discuss the constitution. It came after Mr Cameron’s party secured 331 seats and the SNP won a landslide north of the Border, taking 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies.
Ms Sturgeon warned Mr Cameron “it would not be business as usual” for Scotland and made it clear she expects the Smith Commission proposals for devolution to be extended.
Earlier, as the scale of her party’s victory became apparent, she said: “The political firmament, the tectonic plates in Scottish politics have shifted. What we are seeing is a historic watershed.”
Labour was reduced to 232 seats in the House of Commons – with just one, Edinburgh South, in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats won only eight seats – they had been defending 57.
The two parties’ respective leaders, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, both quit, along with Ukip’s Nigel Farage, who failed in his bid to become an MP and saw his party win just one seat despite polling 4.4 million votes.
While Scottish Labour lost all but one of its 41 seats, leader Jim Murphy insisted he would continue in his post, in the face of calls for him to stand down.
Despite Ms Sturgeon’s overwhelming victory, her hopes of being a kingmaker were dashed when the Conservatives won their first outright majority since 1992.
The result means the Tories will have a free hand to introduce policies such as renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent, reducing basic and higher rate income tax and cutting welfare by £12 billion.
On the steps of 10 Downing Street, after a 20-minute audience with the Queen, Mr Cameron said his priority would be to push ahead with the Smith Commission reforms agreed before Christmas by all parties.
He also made clear he would press ahead with plans for English votes for English laws, locking Scottish MPs out of certain votes in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister said: “I have always believed in governing with respect. That is why, in the last parliament, we devolved power to Scotland and Wales and gave the people of Scotland a referendum on whether to stay inside the United Kingdom.
“In this parliament, I will stay true to my word and implement as fast as I can the devolution that all parties agreed for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Governing with respect means recognising that the different nations of our United Kingdom have their own governments, as well as the United Kingdom government.
“Both are important, and indeed, with our plans, the governments of these nations will become more powerful with wider responsibilities.
“In Scotland our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world, with important powers over taxation.”
But he warned: “No constitutional settlement will be complete if it did not offer also fairness to England.”
Reflecting on the past five years, Mr Cameron insisted he was proud of the coalition and paid tribute to his former deputy, Mr Clegg, and the defeated Labour leader.
He said: “I have been proud to lead the first coalition government in 70 years and I want to thank all those who worked so hard to make it a success, and in particular, on this day, Nick Clegg.”
He added: “The government I led did important work. It laid the foundations for a better future and now we must build on them. I truly believe we are on the brink of something special in our country. We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing.
“Our manifesto is a manifesto for working people and, as a majority government, we will be able to deliver all of it. Indeed, it is the reason why I think majority government is more accountable.”
Mr Cameron vowed to govern for the whole country but made it clear he would press ahead with his planned in/out referendum on membership of the European Union.
He also insisted the country was much stronger than it was five years ago when he first stood on the steps of No 10 as Prime Minister.
He said: “Everything I have seen over the last five years, and indeed during this election campaign, has proved once again that this is a country with unrivalled skills and creativeness, a country with such good humour and such great compassion. And I am convinced that if we draw on all of this, then we can take these islands, with our proud history, and build an even prouder future. Together, we can make Great Britain greater still.”
As she headed for VE Day commemorations in London, Ms Sturgeon warned that the Prime Minister would need to heed all parts of the UK.
In a sign that she wants to work constructively, she refused to agree with her predecessor Alex Salmond’s assessment that Mr Cameron had “no legitimacy in Scotland”. She also insisted that the SNP group of MPs was not there “to disrupt or destroy”.
And in a further sign of a positive approach, she made it clear that Moray MP Angus Robertson would remain Westminster leader and not be replaced by Mr Salmond. She said: “Angus is the leader of the parliamentary group and he’ll do a good job. He has done a good job.”
However, she demanded “respect” from the new UK government for the way in which Scotland had voted.
Talking about her conversation with Mr Cameron, Ms Sturgeon said: “It was a brief call. It was an opportunity for me to congratulate him. I didn’t want him to be Prime Minister again, but he has won the election and I congratulated him.
“He was gracious to congratulate the SNP on our success. We will meet as soon as possible and discuss these issues in more detail, but I made it clear it can’t be business as usual. I wanted an anti-Tory majority and the polls suggested there would be an anti-Tory majority – I made clear if that had been the outcome, I would have wanted to work with Ed Miliband to have him in Downing Street rather than David Cameron. Ed Miliband had seemed unsure if he would have wanted to do that, but that now is academic.
“I think that is regrettable but it’s not to do with what happened in Scotland – even if Labour had held all of their Scottish seats yesterday, they still wouldn’t have done enough in England to beat the Tories.
“I said during the election that this election wasn’t about independence and it wasn’t a vote for a second referendum. I said very explicitly and directly to voters across Scotland that if you vote for the SNP I will not take your vote as an endorsement of independence. I am not going to turn my back on that, I’m going to stick to my word.
“If there is ever another referendum in Scotland on independence, that will only come about if people vote for that in a Scottish Parliament election. Yesterday’s election was a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster.”
She added: “We’re not here to disrupt or destroy, we’re here to get the best deal for Scotland and everything the group does down here will be designed to achieve that.”