THE SNP’S dream of an independent Scotland was dashed today at the culmination of the most intense political campaign the country has ever seen.
Alex Salmond conceded defeat early this morning after Scots voted by 55 to 45 per cent to stay in the United Kingdom.
Fife declaring for No at 6.08am was the result which took the Better Together campaign over the line and ensured the 307-year Union would be maintained. The referendum had seen a record-breaking turnout of 85 per cent.
Mr Salmond told a crowd of supporters at Our Dynamic Earth that he accepted “the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland” and called on the leaders of the three main pro-Union parties to live up to promises of further devolution they made during the referendum campaign.
He called for “rapid” progress on further devolution.
He hailed the 1.6 million people who had voted for independence.
And he told the disappointed Yes campaigners: “Let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us dwell on the distance we have travelled and have confidence the movement is abroad in Scotland that will take this nation forward and we shall go forward as one nation.”
Prime Minister David Cameron immediately said he would ensure that commitments to further devolution would be “honoured in full”, announcing the appointment of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games supremo Lord Smith to oversee the drafting of proposals in legislation published by January.
In a 7am statement in Downing Street, Mr Cameron also announced plans to devolve powers in other parts of the United Kingdom.
“It is time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward,” said the PM. “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.”
And he promised to address the West Lothian Question, by allowing England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland to vote separately on their own tax, spending and welfare issues,
Despite winning a majority of votes in some areas – including Glasgow and Dundee – the Yes campaign could not secure enough support to win the historic referendum, failing to take key targets like Clackmannanshire and the Western Isles.
Edinburgh was 61 per cent No to 39 per cent Yes – 194,638 votes to 123,927. All the other Lothian council areas also voted to save the union.
While the vote ultimately went to preserving the union, it is clear the two-and-a-half year long campaign has changed the constitutional map of Britain forever.
The Queen, who is understood to have watched the referendum debate with close interest, was expected to issue a written statement this afternoon. It is understood that the monarch, who was praised by both sides during the campaign, believes that it is important to send a message of reconciliation after the heated debate.
The First Minister accepted in his speech before a One Scotland banner that the country did not want independence “at this stage”.
He said: “I think all of us in this campaign will say that 45 per cent, that 1.6 million votes, is a substantial vote for Scottish independence and the future of this country.
“Let us say something which I hope unites all campaigns and all Scots. I think the process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit on Scotland.
“A turnout of 86 per cent is one of the highest in the democratic world for any election or any referendum in history. This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics.”
He said allowing 16 and 17-year-olds the vote was a “resounding success”. “I suspect no-one will ever again dispute their right and ability to participate fully and responsibly in democratic elections.”
He pledged to work constructively in the “interests of Scotland” and called for the pledge to devolve more power from Westminster to be honoured “in rapid course”.
The bulk of results from Scotland’s 32 local authorities were received between 3am and 5am. The Highland result, the last to be declared at 8.10am, took the final total to 2,001,926 for No and 1,617,989 for Yes.
Mr Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, said there was a “real sense of disappointment”.
She said: “What is undoubtedly the case is that people have voted for change tonight.
“We’ve got more than a million people voting for independence. Many of those who didn’t vote for independence will have voted No because they believed that substantial new powers were coming to the Scottish Parliament.
“Scotland’s never going to be the same again as a result of this fantastic campaign and therefore, yes, I’m disappointed but also absolutely determined to make sure that the demand for change that has been expressed in this vote is delivered.”
In an early-morning phone call, the Prime Minister spoke to former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, the leader of the cross-party Better Together campaign, to congratulate him on “a well-fought campaign”.
Mr Darling said he was “humbled” by the level of support for No and the efforts of the volunteers.
Jim Sillars, the former SNP deputy leader and widower of Margo MacDonald, announced his retirement from political campaigning following the result, urging the unionist parties to include the SNP leadership in the debate about new powers.
Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont said the result was “decisive”.
On whether it had been a happy night, she said: “I’m not sure if the word is happy that I’d use, it’s very emotional – it’s a very emotional time.
“I’ve seen my country divided and I know there are people out there who are really hurting because they’ve lost, and we are pleased Scotland has decided it wants to stay in the United Kingdom.
“When Nicola Sturgeon said on a personal level she was disappointed I can understand that because I know she fought a hard campaign.
“She also said this was a vote for change, I absolutely agree with that.”
City council leader Andrew Burns said: “The media
attention on Scotland, and on Edinburgh in particular, has been unparalleled and I am delighted that, as ever, our city shone.
“Whatever the result, Edinburgh was still going to remain Scotland’s capital and a wonderful place to live and work – and, crucially, to do business.”