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4 ways the British elections have changed everything

A voter arrives at polling station, located in a community center, while a British Union flag hangs from a balcony as voting continues in the 2015 general election, in the Southwark district of London, on Thursday, May 7, 2015. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Britain's election was supposed to be a nail-biter, an inconclusive election that would leave the country's political future unclear. Instead, it's anything but. The results make it remarkably clear who are the winners, and the losers, of this election.

As the dust settles on Friday, it's worth thinking about what this election means for the future of Britain. This was always going to be an important election for Britain, but it didn't exactly turn out important in the ways that many people suspected it would.

Here's how the 2015 British election will change the country.

1. David Cameron's vision of austerity is given a clear mandate.

One of the defining visions of David Cameron's center-right Conservative government has been its hope for economic austerity and a less spendthrift British state. It's also been one of his most controversial, dividing the British public and economists alike.

As dramatic as Cameron's austerity plans were after he was elected in 2010, there was always a sense that he didn't necessarily have the political clout to justify them. The Conservatives may have won the most seats in the 2010 election (306 out of 650 seats), but they were shy of a majority and needed to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats (with 57 seats) to govern.

Now, Cameron's austerity plan has a real mandate. The Conservatives have won a majority of seats in Parliament and can quite easily form a government without the Liberal Democrats..

2. Heads are rolling.

Despite the disbelief shown when exit polls first came out (one senior party official said he would publicly eat his own hat if the polls were right), Friday's results confirmed what many had feared: The Liberal Democrats had been decimated, and they will be lucky to have a double-figure seat count. Nick Clegg, the charismatic leader of the party who had prompted high hopes and #CleggMania in 2010, resigned on Friday.

As bad as things were for Clegg, however, they sting worse for Ed Miliband, the leader of left-center Labor Party, long the second party of British politics. There were many who felt that Miliband could overcome the considerable criticism of his public demeanor and win the British election, or at least put up a worthy challenge. Now, with results suggesting Labor may have actually lost seats since 2010, Miliband has resigned.

Another candidate with high hopes, Nigel Farage, of the anti-European Union and anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), was also forced to resign as party leader after he failed to secure a seat in parliament. Farage, a beer-swilling, cigarette-smoking politician who portrayed himself as the voice of average Britons, had been a unique and high-profile face in the British political world. It's unclear if he will be able to make a return, or who could succeed him.

These are just some of the people leaving the British political scene after Thursday night's electoral bloodbath. There are plenty of other smaller names (Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats and Ed Balls of the Labor Party, for example) that many Britons will be shocked to see go.

3. Scotland's new political order is cemented.

The Scottish National Party, a party that promotes independence, is on track to win almost every single parliamentary seat allocated for Scotland. After winning only six seats in 2010, and losing its referendum campaign for an independent Scotland in 2014, the SNP is now quite clearly the dominant force in Scottish politics with more than 50 seats.

While the SNP has denied it will seek a new independence referendum any time soon, and it will not form any part of a British government (a possibility had Labor won the most seats), it's hard to imagine that this won't have repercussions. Even if the SNP does not actively seek independence any time soon, its complete domination of Scotland and its left-wing policies will cause a crisis of legitimacy for the Conservatives, who will likely have just one Scottish MP yet will govern Scotland.

It's also a major loss for Labor, which had long considered Scotland one of its most stable sources of support. Its losses in Scotland were humiliating. Jim Murphy, the leader of the Labor Party in Scotland, lost his seat to the SNP, and the former seat of Gordon Brown, Labor's ex-prime minister who had chosen to retire, was also lost. Douglas Alexander,  ­Labor’s shadow foreign secretary and campaign chief, lost his seat to a 20-year-old student. (That student, Mhairi Black, is now the youngest British MP since 1667.)

The SNP's rise and the Conservatives' win in spite of it certainly seems to add more weight to the idea that Britain cannot remain united forever.

4. Britain may leave the European Union.

In 2013, Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union. He later clarified that it would be held before 2017.

There's not too much evidence that Cameron or the rest of the Conservative Party elite actually wants Britain to leave the European Union. And he may still try to avoid a vote. But the Conservative Party's Euroskeptic fringe and UKIP voters will likely try to force him to keep his word. There will likely be considerable support from voters for a referendum – UKIP may have struggled to win many seats in the 2015 election, but early suggestions are that it won over 12 percent of the total vote.

How would Britons vote if a referendum is held? It's hard to say – polls seem to suggest that most would vote to stay in the European Union. However, a lot could change after campaigning, and the 2015 election itself should serve as a reminder that polls can be misleading. If Britain does leave the European Union, the repercussions could be dramatic -- both for Britain and the European Union itself.

See also

British financial markets were rallying as election results pointed to a shock outright victory for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party on Friday. (Video: Reuters)

11 weird memes that help explain the British election

A new political order in Scotland threatens to upend the British election

British election results signal seismic political shift in Scotland