Early results Friday from British local and regional elections seen as a key test for opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn showed strong gains for Scottish nationalists, as London looked set to elect its first Muslim mayor.
Initial results showed the Scottish National Party winning what their leader called a “historic” victory in Scotland, as it seeks a mandate to move towards a second independence referendum.
Some counts were expected to stretch into the weekend as 45 million eligible voters were asked to cast their ballots in contests across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
With results in from 78 out of 124 councils in England, Labour has suffered losses though they were not as bad as expected, damping down talk of a potential leadership challenge to Corbyn.
Of the two main parties, Labour held 40 councils, down one, and 768 seats, down 7 and the Conservatives had 19 councils and 467 seats, up 9.
The results of local elections were already emerging early Friday, while the outcome of the vote for a new mayor of London to replace Conservative Boris Johnson was expected later in the day.
Labour lawmaker Sadiq Khan, a former government minister and son of a bus driver from Pakistan, is tipped to beat Conservative multimillionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith in the race to run the British capital.
The voting day dubbed “Super Thursday” came after a bitter few weeks of political sniping between the Conservative party of Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour.
Corbyn set up an inquiry into anti-Semitism and racism in Labour after former London mayor Ken Livingstone was suspended from the party for claiming Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler supported Zionism.
Several other Labour politicians were also suspended for anti-Israel remarks.
Cameron is also grappling with deep splits in his party ahead of the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Retired head teacher Mary White, 66, said that for her the biggest issues in the London mayoral election were “housing and transport.”
“I don’t think that any of the candidates have a magic solution so it’s incredibly difficult to choose between them,” White said as she voted in London.
The mayoral campaign has been ugly, with Khan forced to deny support for Islamic extremists and Goldsmith rejecting claims of playing on voters’ religious prejudices.
But many Londoners were more concerned with concrete issues such as health and wages.
“Muslim or non-Muslim, it doesn’t… matter for the community,” said 57-year-old Koyruz Zoman, a Muslim cook from Whitechapel in the ethnically diverse East End.
“Whoever comes in, we want what they’ve promised.”
Twelve candidates are standing for mayor of London but polls point to a straight fight between Khan and Goldsmith, with the former between 12 and 14 points ahead.
If the polls are correct, Khan would become the first Muslim mayor of an EU capital.
The two men come from very different backgrounds. Khan, 45, grew up in social housing and worked as a human rights lawyer before entering politics, while Goldsmith, 41, is the son of the late tycoon financier James Goldsmith.
Khan has dismissed attempts to link him with Islamic extremists as “desperate stuff,” but Cameron repeated the claims in angry clashes with Corbyn in parliament on Wednesday.
Cameron said Khan had shown a “pattern of behavior” in appearing publicly alongside people such as Sajeel Shahid, “the man who trained the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks (in London).”
In Scotland, SNP chief and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “What is now beyond doubt is that the SNP has won a third consecutive Scottish Parliament election.”
She added: “We have tonight made history.”
After early counting Friday, the SNP had won 58 seats. A total of 65 is needed to win a majority in the 129-seat parliament. At the last election in 2011, the SNP had 69.
Sturgeon has said June’s referendum on Britain’s EU membership could fuel calls for another independence vote if Britain as a whole elects to leave the EU but Scotland votes to stay in.
Scotland rejected independence at a referendum in 2014.
The Conservatives look set to become the main opposition party in Scotland, a major victory in a country where they have been deeply unpopular since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership in the 1980s.
In Wales, polls put Labour on course to retain its dominance in the Welsh Assembly, with the Conservatives and nationalists Plaid Cymru vying for second place.
In Northern Ireland, the delicate balance in the power-sharing executive set up after decades of sectarian violence also looks set to continue.