The Conservatives have held onto the hotly-contested Aberdeenshire West seat – making it the only constituency in the north-east where the SNP did not win.
Alexander Burnett secured 19,709 votes, which was 47% of the total cast, to return to Holyrood – beating the SNP’s Fergus Mutch, who gained 16,319 votes, or 39.1%.
The seat was a crucial target for the SNP, and throughout the campaign it was a key focus – with leader Nicola Sturgeon visiting the region several times.
However, Mr Burnett increased his majority from 900 over the second-place SNP in 2016, to 3,390 over the SNP this year.
After his victory speech, Mr Burnett said he felt “pretty good”.
He said: “We were always hopeful that people would see the hard work we’ve put in for five years.
“With our constituency declared last, we had seen how some of the other results had gone, and we saw there was a clear support for Conservatives not just in this constituency, but we’ve seen already across the rest of the north-east swings and increases for the party in Banff and Buchan, Aberdeen Donside, and other places.”
Mr Burnett said he felt “a lot” of pressure from the SNP during the campaign.
He said: “This was the only seat five years ago which the SNP didn’t win, they have targeted this seat, and myself, for five years.
“It’s not been the most pleasant of experiences, I can tell you that.
“But I felt the constituents five years ago asked me to do a job because they didn’t want an SNP win here, and I was happy to do that, and I’m happy to stand up again and do it again.”
Abuse is “nothing short of disgraceful”
Mr Burnett also highlighted abuse he says he has received on social media over the years, and reflected on on Tory campaign signs that were recently vandalised with Swastikas.
He added: “The narrative that’s been put out against me leads to a lot of abuse that we’ve seen on social media directed towards me, my family, and people who work for me.
“We get a lot of abuse during the campaign and during the past five years.
“When people actually go out of their way to go onto someone else’s property to vandalise someone else’s private property, and think that’s acceptable in a democratic process, is nothing short of disgraceful, it’s a scandal, and I hope the people who did that are feeling some sense of shame now.”
He continued: “I believe this is a vindication that we’ve done a good job for the past five years, but more importantly, what we’ve been hearing is that it’s about what people are upset about in the north-east.
“The city and shire councils are underfunded, NHS Grampian has been underfunded over the last decade, and people, especially in our rural communities, they’re the ones who feel the effects of that.
“We have a whole range of problems that won’t get solved until the funding arrangements are resolved.”
The SNP’s response
The Liberal Democrats candidate Rosemary Bruce received 3,363, or 8.1% of votes cast, and Labour’s Andy Brown secured 2,382 votes, or 5.7%.
In 2016, the Liberal Democrats candidate Mike Rumbles received 7,262 votes, and Mr Mutch argued the Tories benefitted from the “nosedive” in Lib Dem votes.
Mr Mutch highlighted the increase in vote share the SNP received at this election, and urged Mr Burnett to “be conscious” of those who voted for the SNP in Aberdeenshire West.
He said: “It has been a strange campaign, really challenging circumstances for all candidates and their teams, the people at the count today.
“But overall across Scotland we have had an extraordinary SNP result – the biggest vote in the constituency the SNP’s ever had, that’s fantastic.
“And it looks as though we are on course for 63 seats and that means an independence majority is within our grasp.
“That’s really positive news and exciting times ahead for Scotland.
“The SNP’s attention on Aberdeenshire West did work. We increased our number of votes by 4,000. We increased our share of the vote by 4% so it has been fantastic in terms of maxing out that SNP vote.
“What we saw, unfortunately, was the Lib Dem vote nosediving and those votes going to the Conservatives.
“Congratulations to Alexander Burnett, he benefitted from that and was the victor today.
“Before his time in politics, he had done a lot for the community, I think my advice would be to be conscious of 16,000 people voting for the SNP and wanting Scotland to have a choice on their future and rejecting Conservativism.
“Uniting those two strains of the electorate he is representing will be vitally important in the years ahead.”