Alex Salmond suffered political humiliation today as the former first minister admitted he did not anticipate his new Alba Party would gain any seats in a poor debut Scottish election.
The pro-independence party, which launched at the start of the Holyrood campaign, had been fighting on the regional list section of the ballot, with the declared aim of winning an independence 'supermajority'.
But while list votes are still be counted, 66-year-old Mr Salmond said his new party looked set to fall short of the amount needed to pick up seats – although he insisted Alba had still put in a 'credible performance'.
Mr Salmond dropped an election bombshell six weeks ago by revealing he was standing for parliament as leader of the Alba Party in the first week of the campaign in late March.
He pleaded with voters who support independence to back the Scottish National Party on the constituency vote and his party on the regional list in a bid to boost the number of pro-independence MSPs.
Opponents have claimed he was unfit for office after he admitted 'inappropriate conduct' during the criminal trial which ended with him being cleared of all sexual assault charges in March last year.
Alba party leader Alex Salmond walks through Ellon in Aberdeenshire this afternoon as votes continue to be counted
Mr Salmond, pictured in Ellon today, dropped an election bombshell six weeks ago with his Alba party announcement
Mr Salmond speaks to the media in Ellon today as votes continue to be counted for the Scottish parliamentary elections
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross (pictured in Inverness today) said Mr Salmond should now leave frontline politics
He has repeatedly been asked about his past conduct during the election campaign but has refused to apologise.
Today, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Mr Salmond should now leave frontline politics, adding: 'He should never have come back, I said he was a totally unsuitable person to seek elected office again.
Scottish minister admits he is 'not expecting good news' in list vote
Scottish Government minister Paul Wheelhouse has admitted he is 'not expecting good news' on the regional list today.
Mr Wheelhouse lost his bid to take Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire from Tory incumbent Rachael Hamilton by 18,564 to 11,701 votes.
Gains in other parts of the South Scotland region may harm the energy and islands minister's chances on the regional list, with the SNP taking the East Lothian and Ayr seats from Labour and the Tories respectively.
Under Holyrood's voting system, winning constituencies in a certain region harms the chances of a party also gaining seats on the corresponding regional list.
In a tweet replying to a supporter, Mr Wheelhouse said he was hoping for the SNP to secure one list seat, but because he is third in the party's ranking it may not go to him.
'Not expecting it will be good news personally given the fact I am third, but still hopeful we get at least one list MSP elected to cover our area,' he said.
'He claims - as he has - that he's been cleared by court cases etc but he accepted his own behaviour fell well below the standard expected of someone in elected office.
'And I think it was wrong for him to seek election again and the people of the North East have been very clear they don't want him.'
Mr Salmond claimed that there could be 'perhaps even a million list voters' for Nicola Sturgeon's party which would 'elect nobody', because of the SNP's success in the constituency section of the vote.
He said: 'We warned of the danger of piling up SNP list votes and achieving nothing, getting nobody returned and allowing unionists, Labour and Tory, to sneak in the back door. That unfortunately is what is going to happen.'
Mr Salmond, a former SNP leader, said supporters of the pro-UK parties had been 'smart' in tactical voting but that 'the SNP unfortunately are sending their troops over the top and are piling up perhaps even a million list votes, which will elect nobody'.
Speaking about the votes Alba has received, he said: 'I've obviously looked at the ballot boxes at the count and they've given us some very good ones - Aberdeenshire had over 10 per cent in a couple of the ballot boxes.
'But in some of the big ballot boxes, I think we ended up over 3 per cent in Aberdeenshire East, the same in Banff and Buchan, a bit more actually, which I'm pleased with because these are our best results in Scotland.
'But that doesn't get you a seat. You need 4.5 per cent, maybe 5 per cent, to get a seat. But nonetheless it's a credible performance for a party which has just celebrated its sixth birthday - in other words, we are six weeks old.'
The former first minister insisted: 'I think Alba's future is secure.'
He also congratulated Ms Sturgeon, his successor as SNP leader, 'on her victory' in the election, but added that that came with responsibilities.
Mr Salmond said: 'It is now Nicola's responsibility to carry forward the independence argument and she now has to answer the questions of how you proceed with obduracy from Westminster.
Mr Salmond on his phone as votes are being counted for the Scottish elections at the P&J Live in Aberdeen yesterday
Mr Salmond talks to the media yesterday as votes are counted for the Scottish elections at the P&J Live in Aberdeen
'Now I think Alba brought forward a number of ways to do it and we pointed the way. I wish Nicola luck in getting that forward, and Alba will be there urging things on.
List votes up for Greens across Scotland, co-leader says
Votes for the Scottish Green Party are up across the country but the margins for seat gains on the regional lists are very slim, co-leader Patrick Harvie has said.
Mr Harvie is standing in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency, though the Greens expect to make their gains in the regional list vote.
Polls leading up to the election have repeatedly suggested the Greens will make gains.
He told the PA news agency: '(The regional list vote) seems to be up in most places, some places very strongly like yesterday in Glasgow Southside.
'The tricky thing is the difference between getting our first seat on the board in places like the South of Scotland, Central Scotland, North East - it could be a very marginal difference, a very narrow gap.
'It looks like there's three or four seats which are in contention for us but potentially close. We've still got a way to go yet.'
He added: 'The difference between a result which looks outstanding for us and one that's a bit more conservative is actually very small.'
Following the result in Dumbarton, where Labour saw off an SNP challenge, he said: 'I've always said that Parliament's at its best when there's a balance and ministers are at their best when they're kept on their toes, whichever political party they're from.
'The Greens will continue to provide a pro-independence majority and I think that looks likely to be the case.
'We've worked hard over the last five years to push the SNP beyond their comfort zone and we'll keep on doing that.'
'And I suspect the existence of Alba will be an additional incentive for those who have gained election to the Scottish Parliament to get on with the job of delivering the Scottish people independence.'
The former first minister added: 'I know that the SNP have been a little bit nervous, sending people letters saying if they are associated with Alba they might be disciplined by the SNP, or all sorts of things.
'But I put that down to over-enthusiasm of some people who just joined the SNP and are perhaps not aware of the politeness with which the SNP normally conducts its operations.'
In his final pitch to voters, Mr Salmond had appeared to downplay the prospects for his party, describing it as the 'plucky underdog' and omitting to mention the 'super-majority' aim.
In an eve-of-poll video, Mr Salmond asked for support from the 'independence family' to get Alba MSPs elected via the list system.
He said backing the SNP on the regional list was worse than a wasted vote as it helped elect Unionists 'by the back door'.
He also took aim at the Scottish Greens as the other big pro-independence party on the list, calling them 'divided' and 'soft' on the issue.
Miss Sturgeon's central message of her campaign was telling supporters to give 'both votes SNP'.
In his video, Mr Salmond said: 'So for people who believe that independence is a priority, something which has to be put forward with urgency then the only vote for Scottish independence on that second ballot paper is for Alba, the 'new kid on the block', the plucky underdog of Scottish politics – the people who are trying to gain a bridgehead in the Scottish parliament to develop some urgency into the independence case.'
The SNP continue to lead the Holyrood elections today, but it is still not clear if they will win an overall majority.
Ms Sturgeon's party gained three seats during the count yesterday - the only party to take a constituency from another - winning Ayr, Edinburgh Central and East Lothian.
However, uncertainty continued into Saturday, as the wins picked up by the SNP could cause the party to lose regional seats under Holyrood's system, cancelling out gains made.
With 69 seats declared, the SNP have taken 57, the Scottish Lib Dems and Tories both have four and Labour is on two.
The coronavirus pandemic meant traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday's Scottish Parliament election.
And while new MSPs at Holyrood have still to be declared, Ms Sturgeon said it is 'almost certain' the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.
She also stressed that 'when the time is right', she should be able to offer Scots 'the choice of a better future' in a second independence referendum.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the count for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Glasgow Emirates Arena yesterday
Votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow this morning
Votes being counted for the Scottish Parliamentary Elections at the Ingliston Highland Centre in Edinburgh this morning
He said another referendum would be 'irresponsible and reckless' in the 'current context' as Britain emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
Asked what he would do if Ms Sturgeon attempted to hold one without a Section 30 order from Westminster granting permission, he said there is 'no case now for such a thing'.
The SNP have pledged to push forward with legislation at Holyrood for a second Scottish independence referendum which, if passed, could be challenged by the UK Government in court.
Counting continues in the parliamentary contest today, with the main Glasgow counting centre pictured this morning
Mr Salmond with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon in Perth in 2014 when she took over his leadership of the party in Perth in 2014
Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside, said afterwards: 'My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.
'That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland's future should always be in Scotland's hands.'
Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said it was a 'long shot', adding: 'It's certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.
'That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.'