The rural seat in the north of Scotland was a crucial target for Nicola Sturgeon’s party as they fought to hit the cherished 65 out of 129 MSPs that wanted to act as a mandate for a second independence referendum.
Polling expert Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University said the result meant “the route to 65 is now closed to the SNP”, forecasting that Ms Sturgeon’s party would end two short.
After declarations in 68 out of 73 constitutencies, the SNP held 57, with Tories on five, Liberal Democrats on four and Labour on two.
The remainder of seats will be allocated on a regional list system designed to ensure representation for smaller parties, in which the SNP are unlikely to gain many additional MSPs.
As in other Scottish seats, there was evidence in Aberdeenshire West of tactical voting by unionist voters for the party most likely to defeat the SNP.
Conservative Alexander Burnett held onto the seat with 19,709 votes (47.2 per cent), ahead of the SNP’s Fergus Mutch on 16,319 (39.1), with Liberal Democrats trailing on 3,363 and Labour on 2,382.
Mr Burnett’s share of the vote was up by more than nine points on his tally in 2016 while Lib Dems were down more than 12.
Failure to secure an overall majority at Holyrood could see the SNP rely on support from Greens to press for an independence referendum, and opens the prospect of a SNP/Green coalition.