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Eyes on Scotland as millions vote in U.K.

by PAN PYLAS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 7, 2021 at 3:52 a.m.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fi ancee Carrie Symonds leave Methodist Central Hall in central London after voting Thursday in one of scores of elections, including somein Scotland that could have sizable repercussions for the United Kingdom. More photos at arkansasonline.com/57ukpolls/. (AP/PA/Stefan Rousseau)

LONDON -- Millions of British voters were casting ballots Thursday in local and regional elections, and the choices of Scottish voters in particular could have huge repercussions for the future of the United Kingdom.

On what has been dubbed Super Thursday, about 50 million voters were eligible to take part in scores of elections, some of which had been postponed a year because of the pandemic that has left the U.K. with Europe's largest coronavirus death toll.

At stake is the make-up of devolved governments in Scotland and Wales and the next mayors for England's big cities, including London and Manchester. Thousands of council members, police commissioners and other local authorities are also seeking seats. No elections were taking place in Northern Ireland.

A special election will also fill the U.K. parliamentary seat of Hartlepool in the north of England. The vote there could show whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party is still making inroads into parts of the country that the Labor Party has dominated for decades. That result is expected early today, but the outcomes of the other elections will take longer, with some possibly not emerging until Sunday.

Gallery: Elections in the U.K.

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/57ukpolls/]

More voters than usual were expected to cast postal ballots, while those still going to polling stations were encouraged to bring their own pen and wear a mask.

The election that could have the biggest U.K-wide implications was taking place in Scotland, where the governing Scottish National Party is looking for a renewed mandate that could speed up the prospect of a second independence referendum.

The party's leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, says she's looking to push for another referendum if her party wins a majority in the parliament in Edinburgh, but only after the pandemic has been dealt with and the economic recovery from it is on track.

Scotland has been part of the U.K. since 1707, and the issue of Scottish independence appeared settled when Scottish voters rejected secession by 55%-45% in a 2014 referendum. But the U.K.-wide decision in 2016 to leave the European Union ran against the wishes of most Scots -- 62% voted in favor of staying in the bloc while most voters in England and Wales wanted to leave. That gave the Scottish nationalist cause fresh legs.

As U.K. prime minister, Johnson has the ultimate authority to permit another referendum on Scottish independence. So far he has refused, setting up the possibility of renewed tensions between his government and Sturgeon's devolved administration if the National Party wins a majority in the 129-seat assembly in Edinburgh. The nationalists are expected to win the most seats but it's not clear if they will get a majority.

Information for this article was contributed by Jo Kearney of The Associated Press.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he leaves a polling station with his partner Carrie Symonds after casting his vote in local council elections in London, Thursday May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he leaves a polling station with his partner Carrie Symonds after casting his vote in local council elections in London, Thursday May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A Chelsea Pensioner drives his mobility scooter past a sign for a polling station after voting in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A Chelsea Pensioner drives his mobility scooter past a sign for a polling station after voting in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A dog tied up outside a polling station in Mintlaw, Scotland, Thursday May 6, 2021. Scots are heading to the polls to elect the next Scottish Government - though the coronavirus pandemic means it could be more than 48 hours before all the results are counted. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
A dog tied up outside a polling station in Mintlaw, Scotland, Thursday May 6, 2021. Scots are heading to the polls to elect the next Scottish Government - though the coronavirus pandemic means it could be more than 48 hours before all the results are counted. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
A man wearing a face covering leaves the polling station at St Albans Church after he voted, in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A man wearing a face covering leaves the polling station at St Albans Church after he voted, in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
People queue to vote outside a polling station in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday May 6, 2021. Scots are heading to the polls to elect the next Scottish Government - though the coronavirus pandemic means it could be more than 48 hours before all the results are counted. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)
People queue to vote outside a polling station in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday May 6, 2021. Scots are heading to the polls to elect the next Scottish Government - though the coronavirus pandemic means it could be more than 48 hours before all the results are counted. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)
A man walks past a polling station in the Bank View Cafe in Sheffield, England as polls open for local, mayoral, Welsh and Scottish Government elections, Thursday May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
A man walks past a polling station in the Bank View Cafe in Sheffield, England as polls open for local, mayoral, Welsh and Scottish Government elections, Thursday May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan leaves the polling station, at St Albans Church in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan leaves the polling station, at St Albans Church in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Chelsea Pensioner walks past a sign for a polling station after voting in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A Chelsea Pensioner walks past a sign for a polling station after voting in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A man wearing a face mask leaves the polling station at St Albans Church after voting, in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A man wearing a face mask leaves the polling station at St Albans Church after voting, in London, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Millions of people across Britain will cast a ballot on Thursday, in local elections, the biggest set of votes since the 2019 general election. A Westminster special-election is also taking place in Hartlepool, England.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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