Election experts

The aftershocks of the SNP’s success will be felt throughout the next parliament

A new era. Robert Perry/EPA

The Conservative Party looks set to do even better than the surprising exit polls predicted, but the real glory in this election lies with the small parties. The SNP have virtually wiped the main parties off the political map in Scotland, except for a couple of MPs who have managed to cling on for dear life.

The tectonic plates of Scottish politics may well have shifted, but what will be even more interesting are the aftershocks that could be felt at Westminster.

Clearly Sturgeon’s party will be a strong force in Westminster, with greater representation on bill committees and select committees. They may fail in their aim to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street, but they could still try to work with Labour, the Greens and Plaid Cymru on the floor of the House and in the committee rooms to frustrate the Conservative leader’s legislative ambitions.

After all, the government’s majority just got a whole lot smaller thanks to the Liberal Democrats’ abysmal performance. The SNP leader has said her party will vote “at each and every opportunity” in the Commons, including on bills or budgets which predominantly affect England.

But there will be a learning process too. The transition from a small to a sizeable party in the Commons could be tough. Large numbers of SNP MPs who don’t yet know the ropes may hinder their ability to play the parliamentary game as well as the more established parties. They need to get to grips with parliamentary procedure. And quickly. Because once they do – they have the potential to be a thorn in the side of the new government.

UKIP has also massively increased its share of the vote, pushing the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. But the quirks of the much-maligned first-past-the-post electoral system means that their presence will barely be felt in the Commons. The size of Cameron’s Commons majority means he will need to keep other parties on side, but the DUP and the remaining Lib Dems are likely to hold the greater bargaining power.

So the weeks, months and years ahead are likely to be filled with yet more uncertainty. The Conservatives have a majority, but their policy programme will be vulnerable. Cameron will want to avoid comparisons with John Major where possible, but with difficult legislation ahead – and no avoiding further discussions on Europe – every vote will be under the microscope.