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Early Returns in Scotland Election Bode Well for Sturgeon's Ruling Party

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts after being declared the winner of the Glasgow Southside seat, at Glasgow counting center in the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain May 7, 2021.

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) made early gains Friday as the first returns from the nation's parliamentary election were reported.

While full results are not expected until Saturday, and Sturgeon cautioned the results remained too close to call, at last count the SNP had won at least 32 seats in the 129-seat parliament, "devolved" from the British parliament in 1999. If the early trend continues, and the pro-independence party holds on to power, it could have an impact on all of Britain.

If the SNP retains power, and there is a pro-independence majority, the party could seek to hold another referendum on independence by the end of 2023, setting up a potential legal showdown with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who says he will refuse any such vote.

Speaking to supporters after she was reelected to her own seat, Sturgeon said she was cautious at this early stage but was "feeling extremely happy and extremely confident that we are on track in the SNP for a fourth consecutive election victory and to have the ability to form a government again."

Scotland has been part of Britain for 314 years. The last independence referendum failed 55% to 45%. But the movement saw a resurgence since Britain's departure from the European Union, a move overwhelmingly opposed in Scotland. Sturgeon's high marks for handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the unpopularity of Johnson's Conservative British government bolstered support for the independence movement.

The SNP needs to gain at least four more seats to win an overall majority of 65 but could rely on the backing of the pro-independence Green Party, which took five seats in 2016, to pursue a second referendum.

Polls suggest, at this point, the results of a second referendum would be too tight to call. And, despite the early success, the parliamentary elections are also likely to be close, as polls indicated an increase in support for opposition pro-union parties in some areas.