Nicola Sturgeon has hailed the SNP’s “historic and extraordinary” fourth consecutive victory in the Scottish Parliament election.

Counting is continuing, but the BBC is predicting that the SNP will finish on 63 seats – two short of a majority and the same number it won in 2016.

Ms Sturgeon said her priority was to steer the country through the pandemic.

But she said she still intended to hold an independence referendum once the crisis has passed.

And she said there was no democratic justification for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, or anyone else, to attempt to block it.

With all of the constituency seats now declared and several regional list results still to come, the SNP has won 63 seats so far, the Conservatives 14 seats, Labour 10, the Liberal Democrats four and Scottish Greens three.

The BBC is forecasting that the final result will see the SNP finish on 63 seats, with the Conservatives again finishing second on 31, Labour on 22, the Greens on nine and Liberal Democrats four.

Ms Sturgeon said her party had won the most constituency seats and secured the highest share of the constituency vote in the history of devolution.

And she pledged that “the task of building a better Scotland for everyone who lives here will be my priority every single day.”

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Ms Sturgeon said her focus in government would be on leading the country through the pandemic and keeping people safe from Covid.

She added: “It is then to kick-start and drive our recovery with an ambitious and transformative programme for government.

“And, yes, when the crisis has passed, it is to give people in Scotland the right to choose their future.

“All of that is what I promised and all of that is what I intend to deliver.”

And she said the result of the election meant there was “no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future.”

boris johnson
Boris Johnson says it would be “reckless” to hold a referendum right now

Mr Johnson, the UK prime minister, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper earlier on Saturday that it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to hold a referendum right now.

He added: “I listened to the Scottish election carefully. My impression was that they [the SNP] moved away from the idea of a referendum, and I think very wisely.

“I don’t think this is anything like the time to have more constitutional wrangling, to be talking about ripping our country apart, when actually people want to heal our economy and bounce forward together. That’s what people want.”

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The Scottish voting system was specifically designed to prevent any one party having a majority in the 129-seat parliament – although the SNP did manage to do so in the 2011 election.

The SNP, which formed a minority government after the last election in 2016, had hoped that winning another majority in this election would further strengthen its calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held.

It would also have allowed the party to pass laws and the Scottish government’s annual budget at Holyrood without having to rely on the support of any other party.

But there will be another, slightly increased, pro-independence majority in the parliament thanks to the seats allocated to the Scottish Greens through the regional list system.

However, the Alba Party – which was formed by former SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond – will not win any seats.

And the constituency results have shown a narrow majority of voters backing pro-UK parties in the election, which was held on Thursday.

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Analysis box by Philip Sim, political correspondent, Scotland

The projected result of this election looks extremely similar to the one from 2016, with only a handful of seats changing hands.

This is remarkable considering all of the things that have happened in the intervening years – from two changes of prime minister and the Brexit vote and process, to a global pandemic.

Even the return of Alex Salmond at the helm of a new party has apparently not altered the makeup of parliament in the slightest, with Alba barely making a dent.

Another thing which will not change is calls for a second independence referendum, with the SNP and Greens together forming a clear majority in favour of one.

But will they be able to change the mind of Prime Minister Boris Johnson?

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The SNP won two seats from Labour and one from the Conservatives in the constituency results that were declared on Friday.

But those wins would cause the party to lose seats on the regional list, effectively cancelling out the gains it has made.

No other constituency seats have hanged hands after Thursday’s vote, which saw what is expected to be a record turnout for a Scottish Parliament election despite the Covid pandemic.

But the SNP’s Kaukab Stewart has made history by becoming the first woman of colour to win a seat in the Scottish Parliament after she held the Glasgow Kelvin constituency for the party.

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The SNP has pledged to push forward with legislation for a second Scottish independence referendum and have said they could go to the courts if the UK government attempts to block it.

Ms Sturgeon has also said she will not hold an illegal wildcat vote on the issue, arguing that it would not actually lead to Scotland becoming independent because the result would not be recognised by the UK government or the international community.

And she has repeatedly stressed that she would only want a referendum to be held once the pandemic is over.

Opinion polls suggest that voters are essentially split 50-50 on the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country.

Source: BBC