Theresa May’s gamble to call a snap election looks like it could backfire spectacularly as exit polls suggested the Conservative leader would lose her outright majority.
A survey conducted for BBC/ITV/Sky as the polls closed last night predicted a disastrous election for the Prime Minister with the Conservatives falling 12 seats short gaining control over the House of Commons.
If the exit poll proves correct, Mrs May will be under pressure to quit as Conservative leader having based her entire election strategy on achieving a landslide victory in an attempt to strengthen her Brexit negotiating hand.
The poll based on interviews with 30,450 voters as they left polling stations in 144 constituencies, also forecast a poor night for the SNP. If correct, Nicola Sturgeon’s party is set to lose 22 MPs ending up with 34 seats – a substantial reduction from the 56 won two years ago and a huge blow to the First Minister’s ambitions to hold a second independence referendum.
If the poll proves accurate, the seats of prominent SNP politicians such as Pete Wishart, John Nicolson and Angus Robertson would be lost.
According to the survey, the Conservatives stand to lose 17 seats across the UK taking their representation down to 314 leading to a hung parliament. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was in line to increase their number of MPs by 34 up to 266, far exceeding expectations at the outset of the campaign six weeks ago.
The exit poll will fuel speculation that Labour could attempt to work with the Lib Dems, who were in line to win 14 seats, and the SNP to form a progressive alliance. Although on the poll numbers, they would still be short of a majority.
Last night Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the poll’s findings suggested Mrs May had made a “catastrophic error” in calling the election. Voters went to the polls three years early after Mrs May called the snap election, hoping to take advantage of Labour’s disarray and to improve her mandate ahead of the Brexit discussions.
At the outset of the six-week campaign, which was interrupted by two terrorist attacks, the assumption was that the Prime Minister would succeed in her ambition to win a landslide majority of around 100 seats.
But during one of the strangest campaigns in living memory, Conservative confidence has been eroded by the lacklustre performance of Mrs May as well as Mr Corbyn exceeding expectations on the stump.
Last night the SNP MSP and social security minister Jeane Freeman said she hoped her party would do better than the poll indicated, but added that it forecast an “extraordinarily bad” result for Mrs May.
Ms Freeman said: “If the exit poll is correct, it is an extraordinarily bad result for the Conservatives, because Theresa May not only called this snap election with a majority and with a significant lead in the polls.
“That result does not suggest she has maintained that significant lead in the polls. From the SNP’s point of view, if we had a majority of seats in Scotland then that would be a good result for the SNP.
“In 2010 we only had six MPs. 2015 was an extraordinarily probably once in a century result. So 34 – we would hope for better and I am sure we will get better. But it is not a disaster for the SNP, it is a disaster for the Tories tonight.”
The Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser was tight-lipped when asked about his party’s prospects, preferring to focus on the challenge faced by the Tories.
Mr Fraser said: “What I think is the most interesting aspect of this poll is that in Scotland this poll shows the SNP on 34 seats. That would be an astonishing decline for the SNP who went into this election holding 56 out of 59. That really would be a dramatic reverse for Nicola Sturgeon.”
If Brexit was the key issue south of the Border, in Scotland independence was a dominant theme following Nicola Ms Sturgeon’s decision to respond to Brexit by calling for a second referendum.
Under Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tories have based their campaign on opposing indyref2 – a stance which the party hopes will momentum to their revival north of the Border.
Polling throughout the campaign has suggested that the SNP will not replicate the remarkable result of two years ago which saw the Nationalists take 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
Labour has also presented itself as an anti-indyref party, although Ms Sturgeon has questioned Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale’s opposition to another poll.
In the final TV debate of the campaign, hosted by STV, Ms Sturgeon claimed Ms Dugdale had indicated she would support another referendum when the two leaders spoke over the phone the day after the UK voted for Brexit.
Ms Dugdale has categorically denied the claim. Following the atrocities in Manchester and London, voters went to the polls amid heightened security and with a determination not to let terrorism disrupt the democratic process.