Nicola Sturgeon’s hope for an outright win at Holyrood was pegged back despite major wins for the SNP in target seats across the country.
The party picked up landmark victories from Labour and Conservatives but tactical unionist voting appears to have blunted the necessary SNP surge.
The second and final day of counting ends this evening. Results will include the proportional regional lists – which could make all the difference for the balance of power.
Greens are on track for gains, according to pre-election polls, which would give the SNP a pro independence majority if they fail to cross the halfway line by themselves.
The regional results are also likely to confirm Alex Salmond’s Alba project has failed to deliver.
Conservatives, despite some failures in constituencies, are expected to strengthen their presence in the North East and Highlands. Labour, which had a poor day yesterday, needs a major turnaround to overtake their rivals for second place.
The SNP held on in seats the party was defending, and even increased the majority in Moray, which had been considered a tough contest.
In Banffshire and Buchan Coast, the Tories came close to beating their nationalist rivals.
Elsewhere, the SNP mopped up across the Highlands, Western Isles, Dundee and in Tayside.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney saw off a Tory challenge in Perthshire North.
The SNP scored a historic win in Ayr, where the Tories were beaten, and in East Lothian, punting Labour off the map there for the first time since the first election to the devolved parliament in 1999. Former Moray MP Angus Robertson took Edinburgh Central and is now likely to fill a government role with Ms Sturgeon.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie made advances to retain North East Fife while his party fell short of the top target in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, which went to the SNP.
But it was Labour’s stubborn win in Dumbarton on Friday evening which appeared to signal the SNP majority might be thwarted.
Recovery is the focus
Ms Sturgeon said recovery is the focus of what is certain to be another SNP government.
But she also repeated her desire for another independence referendum.
“My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery,” she said after convincingly winning Glasgow Southside against Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
“That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.”
Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: “It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.
“That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.
“It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR system, to win a majority, you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.”
Mr Sarwar has only been in the job a matter of weeks and said there’s still work to do.
“Even my biggest critics can see that over the course of the last 10 weeks we’ve got the Labour Party back on the pitch,” he said.
“I think people can see that I’m a different kind of leader, trying to build a different kind of party, and together rebuild a different kind of country.”
There are still some knife-edge contests going on around the country.
Aberdeenshire West is now the main SNP target against a Conservative defender. Seats in Mid Scotland and Fife are still to declare including Angus South, and Perthshire South and Kinross-shire.
With 47 constituency results declared on Friday, the SNP had 38 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two.