The prospect of another independence referendum in the next decade was played down today, as experts said it was unlikely the SNP would in the future have a majority in Holyrood to push forward such a plan.
Scotland’s foremost electoral analyst, John Curtice, said the SNP had only been able to bring forward a referendum because they had an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.
And he said this was because opposition parties – particularly Scottish Labour – had run such a weak campaign in 2011.
This was unlikely to be repeated, predicted Professor Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde.
The prospect of a narrow No victory had sparked concerns of a “neverendum”, where Scotland would spend years in constitutional wrangling.
In a speech conceding defeat, First Minister Alex Salmond said he accepted that Scotland did not want to be an independent country, but added the phrase “at this stage”.
However, with the prospect of devo max moving ahead swiftly, another referendum has been kicked into the long grass.
In his speech after the result, Prime Minister David Cameron said the issue had been “settled”. He said: “Now the debate has been settled for a generation or, as Alex Salmond has said, perhaps for a lifetime.
“There can be no disputes, no re-runs – we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.”
Business leaders said many companies would “breathe a sigh of relief” now that the uncertainty created by the referendum was at an end.
And they suggested that the end of the long-running speculation over the future of Scotland could lead to a surge in investment which had been held back.
Bryan Buchan, chief executive of Scottish Engineering, said: “We are delighted to put the uncertainty of the last two years behind us and to resume our focus on business. There has undoubtedly been some ‘marking time’ on investment by the larger organisations and we would anticipate that projects will now move forward, as will business growth, given the future is now more assured, and we have an open field for the hugely important UK market.”
Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: “There can be no doubt that many businesses will breathe a sigh of relief that the prospect of a contentious currency debate and prolonged economic negotiations have been avoided, and yet we know that significant changes are still on the cards.
“The main party leaders have made clear their intention to devolve further power to the Scottish Parliament, and over time this will give the people of Scotland more of a say over how to manage their economy.”
Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the only Conservative MP in Scotland, said he expected new powers for Holyrood to get through the Commons and Lords despite opposition from some MPs.
“It may be that some colleagues might not support them, but I with the full support of the three parties I don’t see a basis on which it wouldn’t get through the Commons or the Lords.
CAMERON: IT WAS RIGHT TO GIVE SCOTLAND ITS SAY
PRIME Minister David Cameron said: “The people of Scotland have spoken. It is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together. Like millions of other people, I am delighted.
“As I said during the campaign, it would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end.
“And I know that sentiment was shared by people, not just across our country, but also around the world . . . because of what we’ve achieved together in the past and what we can do together in the future.
“So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward.
“A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.
He added: “I am a passionate believer in our United Kingdom – I wanted more than anything for our United Kingdom to stay together. But I am also a democrat. And it was right that we respected the SNP’s majority in Holy-
rood and gave the Scottish people their right to have their say.
“Political leaders on all sides of the debate now bear a heavy responsibility to come together and work constructively to advance the interests of people in Scotland, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for each and every citizen.
“To those in Scotland sceptical of the constitutional promises made, let me say this we have delivered on devolution under this Government, and we will do so again in the next Parliament.
The three pro-union parties have made commitments, clear commitments, on further powers. We will ensure that they are honoured in full.”