The Count Is On As Polls Close

Polls have closed in the fifth Holyrood election, with party leaders now awaiting the results.

Voting ended at 10pm, with ballot boxes then taken away to be counted at locations across the country.

With new powers over tax and welfare coming to the Scottish Parliament from April 2017, the first minister will have more powers than ever before.

With the SNP having had a comfortable lead over all its rivals during the campaign, Nicola Sturgeon is all but guaranteed to hold that post once all the votes are counted.

But polls have shown the race between Scottish Labour and the Conservatives for second place is too close to call.

If Labour, led by Kezia Dugdale, is to return fewer MSPs than the Tories, it would be a further humiliation for the party which once dominated Scottish politics but which lost all but one of its MPs in last year's general election.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has relentlessly focused on making her party the official opposition at Holyrood, insisting she will provide "strong opposition'' to the SNP and any prospect of another independence referendum.

If the SNP wins the election, it will mark a record third term in power for the nationalists.

As she cast her vote on Thursday morning Ms Sturgeon, who was accompanied by her husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, said she was "feeling good''.

The Scottish Parliament election comes a year after the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats at the UK general election and there are no real signs the party's momentum is slowing.

Polls suggest the SNP is in line to take the largest share of seats after its landslide victory in 2011 created the first Holyrood majority government.

Ms Dugdale, who cast her vote in Edinburgh accompanied by her partner Louise Riddell, has acknowledged she still has work to do to rebuild the party into a force capable of unseating the SNP, but she insisted her intention is to take Labour back into government.

Ms Davidson claimed her party is "well on course'' to be Scotland's main opposition as she voted in the capital, with girlfriend Jen Wilson.

This election could also see a surge in support for the Greens, who returned two MSPs at the last Holyrood contest.

Co-convener Patrick Harvie hopes his party can win at least one representative from the list vote in all eight regions and there has been speculation the party could overtake the Liberal Democrats and become the fourth largest in the Scottish Parliament.

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