Counting has begun after a day of elections that could have profound implications for the future of the United Kingdom and the Labour Party.
Dubbed Super Thursday, polls closed at 10pm last night in the largest test of political opinion outside a general election in nearly 50 years.
The future of the Labour Party and the state of the union are two of the main issues at play.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP is hoping for an overall majority, which she said she will see as a mandate to hold a second independence referendum, which risks splitting up the United Kingdom.
Voters in Wales were voting for their national representatives in the Senedd, with Mark Drakeford hoping to maintain Labour’s grip – although he could be forced to forge a new coalition to remain as first minister.
In England, people were not only voting in local council elections but also mayoral contests and for police and crime commissioners.
For Labour, the Hartlepool by-election will indicate what, if any, progress the party has made in regaining its former heartlands from the Conservatives after its worst general election result since 1935.
Hartlepool has always had a Labour MP and held its majority in 2019, even as a lot of the “red wall” crumbled around it – but pre-election polls pointed towards a Tory win.
Losing the seat would be a major blow for Sir Keir Starmer and provide a rare by-election gain for a governing party.
Speaking moments after the polls closed, local government secretary Robert Jenrick played down suggestions the Conservatives could win in Hartlepool.
He told Sky News: “It would be distasteful if Keir Starmer didn’t just win, but win with a majority.
“It’s exceptionally rare to win a by-election when you’re in government.
“The idea the Conservatives would be able to win a seat that’s been held for 40 to 50 years is remarkable.
“If it’s close, that’s a really serious indictment of Keir Starmer.”
Voters – and politicians – will be kept waiting longer than usual for results due to coronavirus restrictions.
They will trickle in over the weekend and through to Monday, with some potentially not declaring until next Tuesday.
The bumper set of elections has been the result of the coronavirus pandemic delaying contests from 2020.
Holyrood votes will be counted on Friday and Saturday, while Wales’ result should become clear on Friday.
The Hartlepool by-election will be counted overnight, with a result expected in the early hours of Friday.
It could be Sunday night before England’s local election results are declared and the police and crime commissioners votes may not be declared until Monday night.