LONDON • Scottish nationalists yesterday won a third term in power but lost their outright majority in one of a series of local and regional elections across Britain seen as a key test for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as London looked set to elect its first Muslim mayor.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) won what its leader called a "historic" victory, as it seeks a mandate to move towards a second independence referendum after Scotland voted to reject it in 2014.
However, the 63 seats out of 129 it won fell short of polls ahead of the vote that had suggested it would retain its majority. The SNP, which previously had 69 seats, will now have to seek the support of a smaller party like the Greens to govern.
SNP chief and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "What is now beyond doubt is that the SNP has won a third consecutive Scottish Parliament election... We have made history."
Ms Sturgeon has said June's referendum on Britain's EU membership could fuel calls for another independence vote if Britons as a whole elect to leave the European Union but the Scots vote to stay in.
The Conservatives look set to become the main opposition party in Scotland, a major victory in a country where they have been deeply unpopular since the 1980s, under former premier Margaret Thatcher.
Labour came third in the vote for Scotland's devolved Parliament. Its deputy leader Tom Watson told BBC Radio the results were a "mixed picture" for Labour, saying: "We certainly have to make progress in Scotland before the next general election."
Britons voted on "Super Thursday" to elect new devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales, more than 2,700 local officials across England and a new mayor of London.
With results from 87 councils in, Labour has suffered losses, though they were not as bad as expected, damping down talk of a potential leadership challenge to Mr Corbyn, who set up an inquiry into anti- Semitism and racism after former London mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from the party for claiming Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler supported Zionism.
But there was a glimmer of light in the race to run the British capital, where Labour's Sadiq Khan, a former government minister and son of a bus driver from Pakistan, was tipped to beat Conservative multimillionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, with results expected to come in late yesterday.
The mayoral campaign has been ugly, with Mr Khan forced to deny support for Islamic extremists and Mr Goldsmith rejecting claims of playing on voters' religious prejudices. Mr Khan has dismissed attempts to link him with Islamic extremists as "desperate stuff", but Prime Minister David Cameron repeated the claims in angry clashes with Mr Corbyn in Parliament on Wednesday.
Mr Cameron said Mr Khan had shown a "pattern of behaviour" in appearing publicly alongside people such as Sajeel Shahid, "the man who trained the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks (in London)".
But many Londoners were more concerned with issues like health and wages. "Muslim or non-Muslim, it doesn't... matter for the community," said Muslim cook Koyruz Zoman, 57. "Whoever comes in, we want what they've promised."
Retired head teacher Mary White, 66, said the biggest issues for her in the London election were "housing and transport".
"I don't think that any of the candidates have a magic solution so it's incredibly difficult to chose between them," she said as she voted.
Polls show Mr Khan to be ahead of Mr Goldsmith. If they are correct, Mr Khan would become the first Muslim mayor of an EU capital.
With 45 million eligible voters casting their ballots in contests across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, some counts are expected to stretch into the weekend.