Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to hold another Scottish independence referendum “when the time is right” if the SNP are returned to government.
Giving an acceptance speech at the Emirates Arena on Friday after defeating Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in Glasgow Southside by 19,735 votes to 10,279, the first minister said her party appears to be on course for another term in government.
The SNP leader had just hours earlier played down the chances of an outright majority, saying it has “always been a very, very long shot”, but said that while there are still many votes to be counted, her party looked on course for a fourth consecutive win.
“If that is indeed the outcome of this election, I pledge today to get back to work immediately to continue to steer the country through the crisis of Covid, to continue to lead this country into recovery from Covid,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“And then, when the time is right, to offer this country the choice of a better future.”
Thanking the electorate, Ms Sturgeon paid particular tribute to Mr Sarwar, saying they “actually quite like each other” and adding it is “difficult to campaign against someone you like”.
Mr Sarwar was able to deliver a credible nine-point increase in his party’s vote share in a race he was never expected to win and will almost certainly be returned as an MSP on Saturday on Labour’s regional list for Glasgow.
The SNP leader also took aim at what she described as “far-right thugs” who chose to stand against her and Mr Sarwar in “the most multicultural, diverse constituency in the whole of Scotland”.
This includes Jayda Fransen, the former deputy leader of the right-wing Britain First group, who was convicted for religiously aggravated harassment and had an altercation on the campaign trail with Ms Sturgeon on Thursday.
In footage posted to social media, Ms Fransen could be seen saying to the the SNP leader: “I’ve been on the ground speaking to locals who say you are an absolute disgrace. The decent people of Scotland don’t want it flooded with immigrants.”
— Aamer Anwar🎗✊🏽#BlackLivesMatter (@AamerAnwar) May 6, 2021
Ms Sturgeon described Ms Fransen as a “racist and a “fascist” and told her “the southside of Glasgow will reject you”. Laughter could be heard as it was confirmed the former Britain First activist, who stood as an independent, returned just 46 votes.
In her speech on Friday, Ms Sturgeon said: “The far right thug who led that confrontation got 46 votes, and I am proud that once again Glasgow Southside has shown the racists and the fascists that they are not welcome in Glasgow Southside.
“They are not welcome in Glasgow and they are not welcome anywhere in Scotland, and let that be a note of unity.”
There were sour scenes during the count itself as the police were forced to intervene after SNP justice secretary Humza Yousaf was targeted by an anti-vaccination candidate wearing clothing apparently styled after the Holocaust.
Derek Jackson, who was standing for the “Liberal Party” – which has no connection to the Scottish Liberal Democrats – arrived at the Emirates Arena wearing a dark suit, yellow star with “un-vax” written on it and could be seen making salutes outside.
Mr Jackson was criticised in 2017 for using an image of Auschwitz in a previous election campaign but denied his actions on Friday were anti-Semitic, claiming they were instead intended as a parody of the SNP’s controversial Hate Crime Bill.
‘My home is in Scotland’
Mr Yousaf believes Mr Jackson and his associates made a “beeline” for him and targeted their questioning because of the colour of his skin.
“They were directing questions to me about Pakistan, obviously because of my colour of skin,” he said. “I’m not from Pakistan. My home is in Scotland.”
Mr Yousaf said he was “delighted” to be joined by individuals from a range of political parties standing in unity with him and drowning out the voices of the group.
He added: “You had six muppets here and then you very quickly had 25 people on the other side telling them where to go. That to me is the best of Scotland really.”
Discussing the far-right movement, Mr Sarwar said: “You can see the reaction they got in this hall today. I think you can see the reaction and response they got from the good people in Glasgow Southside.
“Every single time the far-right hate has tried to come to Glasgow Southside, we as a community have united against them and rejected them.
“Nicola Sturgeon and I might have many differences and differences of opinion politically but when it comes to fighting the far-right, when it comes to fighting bigotry, hatred and intolerance in all its forms, we, and indeed large parts of Scotland, are united against the fascists.”