U.K. election 2015: Conservatives defy polls, win slim majority
Too soon to be thinking Camelot: the election results leave behind a fractured political landscape
The mirror cracked from side to side.
Yesterday, the British people were bracing themselves for a hung parliament and days, perhaps weeks, of political wrangling as leaders tried to form a government.
Today, they wake up to the prospect of a Conservative majority, however slim. None, perhaps, are more surprised than the Conservatives themselves, neck-and-neck with Labour in the days leading up to the election.
Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to step back up to the podium, unencumbered, it would seem, by the need to seek coalition partners. By midday, he was on his way to see the Queen.
"I want my party and, I hope, a government I'd like to lead, to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost, the mantle of one nation, one United Kingdom," he said as early results were coming in. "That is how I'll govern, if I'm fortunate enough to form a government in the coming days."
But it's a bit soon to be gazing upon Camelot. The mirror is cracked in more ways than one, leaving a fractured political landscape behind.
Just look at the astounding results in the north, where the Scottish Nationalist Party, leapfrogged to 56 seats from six. They will now become the third-largest block at Westminster and a major thorn in David Cameron's side.
The former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who led last fall's fiery independence campaign, will be one of the voices in that block, and Cameron may well tremble to hear it.
I think this result makes the breakup of the country much more likely in the medium term.- Analyst Tim Bale
"It is an extraordinary statement of intent from the people of Scotland," said Salmond.
"The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country."
The SNP is anti-austerity, anti-nuclear and ultimately committed to independence. But it has insisted its pursuit of greater power in London is not aimed at re-introducing the independence question.
Pundits are skeptical.
"It's the dream, if you like, of the SNP to have a Conservative government in Westminster which it can spend all of its time kicking against and blaming for whatever goes wrong in Scotland," says analyst Tim Bale.
"I would have thought the SNP now is gaming how they call another referendum, when they call another referendum, and I think this result makes the breakup of the country much more likely in the medium term."
There are other challenges ahead for the Conservatives, who will govern on a very low share of the vote. The win also means David Cameron will have to follow through on his pledge to renegotiate Britain's membership terms in the European Union and then put it to an "in-out" referendum.
That question has always been far more divisive within the Conservative party than other parties on the political landscape to a potentially destructive degree. Conservative backbenchers will ensure it dominates the agenda in the months ahead, both in and out of the Conservative party.
It's also an issue guaranteed to raise the hackles of the Scottish National Party, its membership tending to strong support for the European Union. Perhaps just the issue they might waiting for, to attempt their own Camelot.