The leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, said today there were no grounds for Westminster to block a referendum on independence for Scotland after the SNP won a fourth term in power.

Ms Sturgeon gave a televised victory speech just before it was confirmed that Scottish voters elected a majority of pro-Scottish independence MSPs to Holyrood.

The SNP failed to win a majority outright but the party's 64 MSPs - up one on 2016 - will be supported by eight from the Scottish Greens in efforts to secure a second independence referendum.

The Scottish Conservatives vote held steady in second place, maintaining their 31-seat total from the previous Scottish Parliament election.

Anas Sarwar was unable to increase Scottish Labour's seat total, with the party down two MSPs to 22.

The Scottish Greens boosted their influence at Holyrood by picking up an additional two seats for their total of eight. The Scottish Liberal Democrats lost one seat, with Willie Rennie's party now on just four.

Ms Sturgeon declared: "The people of Scotland have voted to give pro-independence parties a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

"The SNP and Scottish Greens both stood on a clear commitment to an independence referendum within the next Parliamentary term.

"And both of us said that the timing of a referendum should be decided by a simple majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. So in no way is a referendum just demand of me or the SNP.

"It is a commitment made to the people by a majority of the MSPs who will take their seats in our national parliament next week," added Ms Sturgeon.

"Given the outcome of this election, there is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future."

Any push for a new Scottish independence referendum had already been condemned as "reckless" by the British Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson's Conservative Party has performed strongly in England, outdoing Labour in its traditional heartlands and taking control of northeastern Hartlepool in a key parliamentary by-election.

Boris Johnson - in an interview with The Daily Telegraph - indicated that he would not agree to a referendum even if the SNP wins a majority.

"I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless," he said. "There's no case now for such a thing... I don't think it's what the times call for at all."

If Westminster refuses permission, this could lead to a lengthy court battle.

Ms Sturgeon has stressed she will only hold a legal referendum that will take place after the virus crisis is over and not before the end of 2023.

The SNP pledges that an independent Scotland would seek to rejoin the European Union after most Scots opposed Brexit.

Yesterday, a by-election saw the Tories win a landslide in the northeast parliamentary seat of Hartlepool, in a bitter blow for Labour and its leader of just over a year, Keir Starmer.

The Conservatives have also registered significant gains in council elections and mayoral races in England, embarrassing Labour.

Bucking the trend, Labour equalled its best ever result in Welsh devolved parliament Senedd Cymru after First Minister Mark Drakeford took a cautious approach to the pandemic.

In London, Labour mayor Sadiq Khan was predicted a narrow victory over Conservative Shaun Bailey.

Labour won several other high-profile mayoral races including Western England and Greater Manchester and Liverpool city, where Joanne Anderson has became the UK's first directly-elected black woman mayor.

The Tories' strong showing continued the trend from the last general election in December 2019, when Brexit was the dominant issue and Conservatives grabbed a string of seats across Labour's so-called "Red Wall" heartlands in northern England.

This time, Mr Johnson has benefited from Britain's successful vaccine roll-out - despite the country also suffering one of the world's worst Covid-19 death tolls.