Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party won an unexpectedly large share of Parliament in the United Kingdom’s general election Thursday, quashing doubts that the Conservatives would maintain power.
The surge was just one of many election night surprises in the U.K., alongside the near-total sweep of the Scottish National Party across 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats. Prior to Thursday, the SNP held just six seats. Cameron’s rivals in the Labour Party, which has dominated Scotland for decades, lost every single one of its Scottish seats, including those of several high-profile Labour officials. (RELATED: How The UK Election Is Almost Guaranteed To End In Stalemate)
And the SNP found another historic victory: the election of Mhairi Black, an outspoken 20-year-old university student who will become the U.K.’s youngest lawmaker since the 1600s. She unseated Douglas Alexander, the Labour shadow foreign secretary — that is, the opposition’s chief parliamentarian responsible for foreign policy.
Victory in British elections goes to whichever party leader manages to win at least 326 of the 650 seats in Parliament’s House of Commons, a margin of 50 percent plus one seat. The Conservatives are on track to win a slim majority, or else they will have to find allies in other parties to reach the threshold and form a government.(RELATED: UK Conservatives’ Hindi Election Song Is Catchy AND Awkward [VIDEO])
Polling in the days before the election suggested that the Conservatives, nicknamed the “Tories,” would face a much more difficult reelection campaign than they did. Despite the relative simplicity of its system, where citizens only vote for their local Member of Parliament, the U.K. has a small and underdeveloped political polling industry compared to other major democracies.
Besides upsets for British polling, Thursday was a bad night for party leaders. Despite winning won reelection in his district, Labour’s Ed Miliband resigned in the face of what his party sees as a massive defeat. Nigel Farage, the head of the U.K. Independence Party who is known for his anti-immigration views, lost his home seat and is not expected to contest it — he told the press that “there’s a bit of me that’s happier than I’ve felt in many, many years.” The Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg also resigned, perhaps paving the way for a more civil working relationship with Cameron after five years in a coalition that some “Lib Dems” say exploited the party’s good will.
Many in the country voted for Parliamentary candidates while reconsidering their local and international priorities. The U.K.’s membership in the European Union has been a major point of debate for years, as has Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the country. The SNP’s bold wins, together with Cameron’s promise to deliver a referendum on E.U. membership by 2017 if reelected, may cause huge changes to the Kingdom’s role in the world in a few short years.