Ukip leader Nigel Farage could return to the post as early as this summer after resigning following his failure to become a MP.
Mr Farage came second to the Conservatives in Thanet South, rounding off a depressing night for his party, which received 3.9 million votes, but ended up with just one MP.
Scottish MEP David Coburn came fourth in Falkirk, receiving just 3 per cent of the vote. He later called for reform of a “seriously sick” voting system, which he said had robbed his party of more MPs.
Mr Coburn also hit out at the calibre of the SNP’s new MPs, saying that “some very strange and extreme creatures” had been elected on behalf of the party.
Mr Farage was beaten into second place in Thanet South by Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay, a former leader of Ukip. But the man who always made the effort to look laid-back on the campaign trail said he felt like a “weight had lifted off his shoulders” after finishing runner-up in the seat, almost 3,000 votes behind his rival.
Mr Farage said: “On a professional level, I express today a degree of disappointment. On a personal level, I feel an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I have never felt happier.”
Announcing his resignation as party leader, he said: “I’m a man of my word. I shall be writing to the Ukip national executive in a few minutes, saying I am standing down as leader of Ukip.
“I shall recommend that… they put in place as acting leader Suzanne Evans, who I think has emerged from this campaign as an absolute tower of strength within Ukip.”
Mr Farage said he had not had a fortnight’s holiday since October 1993, and intended to take the summer off. He added: “There will be a leadership election for the next leader of Ukip in September and I will consider over the course of this summer whether to put my name forward to do that job again.”
Mr Farage said fearful voters had shifted their allegiances from Ukip to the Tories to avoid a Labour-SNP coalition.
But he said as well as a political “earthquake” in Scotland there had also been a shift in Ukip, away from a party of “retired old colonels” to a party of people under 30, particularly young working women.
David Coburn, Ukip’s leader in Scotland, said his party’s results were an “indictment” of the first past the post voting system.
He said: “We’ve got nearly four million votes and we’ve ended up with one MP. There’s something seriously sick about that, which we need to re-balance. The system doesn’t give true balance and I think we’ll need to look at that again, whether that will be possible in the face of a rampant SNP and Conservative government.”
Mr Coburn also criticised the quality of some of the newly-elected SNP MPs.
“I think we’ve sent a bunch of people down south [to Westminster] who are ardently against the country to the south. It’s very dangerous and is going to be bad for Scottish business.”
Elsewhere, the Conservatives were able to exact revenge on defector Mark Reckless by re-taking the seat he handed over to Ukip at a by-election last year.
Mr Reckless lost to Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst in Rochester and Strood by 16,009 votes to 23,142. He had represented the Kent constituency for the Conservatives from 2010 until switching allegiance to Ukip and beating Ms Tolhurst at last November’s by-election.
It made him Ukip’s second MP after fellow Tory defector Douglas Carswell, who was re-elected to represent Clacton.
Speaking after her win, Ms Tolhurst said: “The economy comes first making the country be able to move forward with stability.”
There was some consolation for Mr Farage from Al Murray, the Pub Landlord. The character, created by the 46-year-old Oxford-educated comic, stood for his new party, the Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP), in Thanet South, winning 386 votes.
Asked ahead of the result whether Mr Farage would be welcome in his pub, Mr Murray said: “He is welcome. Any man’s welcome in the pub. That’s the beauty of the pub – everyone’s welcome. It’s a public house, whether you’re a prince or a pauper, you can come in the pub. If he’s drowning his sorrows, I’ll say, ‘Well, well, mate, better luck in 2020’.”