Belfast Telegraph

Scottish independence referendum: Dundee leads Yes fightback

Independence campaigners staged a fightback in the Scottish referendum after supporters of the union suggested the UK was 'safe'.

Dundee became the first part of Scotland to vote for independence, quickly followed by West Dunbartonshire.

Yes campaigners in Dundee City Council cheered as it was announced they had won 53,620 votes there, ahead of No on 39,820.

Voters in West Dunbartonshire cast 33,720 ballots for Yes and 28,776 for No.

But seven other regions - including Yes targets in Clackmannanshire and the Western Isles - voted for the union.

While there was a comfortable majority for Yes in Dundee, the turnout in the city was 78.8% - lower than many other parts of Scotland and perhaps indicating that the Yes campaign has not managed to get voters out in sufficient numbers.

After nine of Scotland's 32 local authorities had declared their results, No was on 241,559 (50.95%) against a Yes vote of 232,516 (49.05).

As the early results came in a senior member of the Westminster Government declared that he believes the United Kingdom is "safe", while pollster YouGov said it was 99% certain of a No victory after a post-ballot survey of more than 1,600 Scots found a 54%-46% majority for remaining in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a live TV address to the nation from 10 Downing Street, which is expected to set out not only proposals to devolve more powers to the Scottish Parliament, but also significant changes to the constitutional settlement for other parts of the country.

Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove, a close ally of the Prime Minister, indicated that this could involve reforms to ensure only English MPs can vote on English issues at Westminster.

Asked if he thought Scotland had voted to remain in the UK, Mr Gove told Sky News: "It does look as though - and I'm keeping every limb crossed - the United Kingdom will be safe."

Mr Gove said Mr Cameron was "anxious to ensure that, after this referendum campaign, we can bring the United Kingdom together".

After joining Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to promise further devolution to Holyrood if Scots voted No, the Prime Minister is facing pressure from MPs south of the border for a similar extension of powers to the English regions, or even the creation of an English Parliament.

Mr Gove said Mr Cameron's statement would recognise "that Scotland needs enhanced devolution... (and that) it's also important to recognise that the rest of the United Kingdom needs to have its position enhanced as well, in Northern Ireland, in Wales and, of course, in England".

He added: "We need to look again at the arrangements which look after the people who live in the majority of the United Kingdom and I think the Prime Minister in particular will be spelling out some ways forward which will allow Westminster to change how it operates in order to ensure that the interests of English voters are effectively protected - indeed enhanced."

Blair McDougall, director of the Better Together campaign, said: "We think there will be a clear No vote tonight. I think the results we have seen now from places like Clackmannanshire - which is an SNP stronghold - are encouraging."

The historic referendum looked set to break records for turnout, with figures as high as 91% in East Dunbartonshire, 90.4% in East Renfrewshire and 90.1% in Stirling.

However Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, of the SNP, told the BBC there were still many votes to be counted.

"We have got to be really careful about making judgments on the basis of the three declarations that have taken place," he said.

"The gap between the two positions is about 13,000 votes ... there are much bigger votes to be cast in other parts of the country.

"It's a very early stage in the night, we have big declarations yet to come, and waiting to see exactly what the position will be in other parts of the country would be good advice at this stage of the night."

After polling stations closed at 10pm, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "This has been a remarkable day. Scotland's future truly is in Scotland's hands."

But the Scottish National Party leader did not attend his local count in Aberdeenshire, as he had been expected to. SNP MP Stewart Hosie insisted nothing should be read into Mr Salmond's absence, telling Sky News that this "might be the action of a First Minister who has to attend the national declaration in Edinburgh".

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson told the BBC she was quietly confident that the "silent majority" of Scots would give a victory to No.

Ms Davidson said whatever the result, politics in Scotland would not be the same: "The status quo has been thoroughly smashed. Whether it is a Yes vote or a No vote, Scotland is going to change after this."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, one of the most senior Liberal Democrat ministers in the coalition Government, told Sky News: "It does look like we have secured a No vote and that is clearly very welcome.

"It is also important to say a No vote is a mandate for change in Scotland, it's a mandate for the strong proposals on more powers for the Scottish Parliament we have been setting out in this campaign."

Inverclyde rejected independence by the narrowest of margins, with 27,329 No votes against 27,243 for Yes.

But after the Yes campaign secured its first successes, a handful of councils declared for the union

Aberdeen, Midlothian, East Lothian, Angus, Stirling - where the SNP's Bruce Crawford is the local MSP - and Falkirk all returned majority votes for No.

At the same time nationalists conceded in defeat in Alex Salmond's Aberdeenshire constituency.

SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson said: "At the end of the day, you always prefer to win but we always knew the size of the mountain we had to climb in Aberdeenshire.

"The challenge now bluntly in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere is for those who've won the referendum to deliver on the promises that they made to the people of Scotland.

"I think that's actually a very substantial challenge indeed for the No side. They've set themselves an ambitious target for moving forward with new powers for Scotland.

"In Aberdeenshire we've always seen it as a tough call, and if Aberdeenshire shows us what's happening nationally, and I don't know what the result is going to be, it delivers the challenge to our opponents., That's the bottom line."

Dr Eilidh Whiteford, SNP MP for Banff & Buchan, said: "Expectations in Aberdeenshire were never going to be that stellar. We always realised that if you win Aberdeenshire you're going to win everywhere.

"I don't think we'll be ahead in Aberdeenshire."

Mr Salmond had been expected to make an appearance at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre but instead went directly to Edinburgh from his home in Strichen.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, said: "The point about this area is that it's Alex Salmond's backyard and his basic proposition has been overwhelmingly rejected here in Aberdeenshire, which I think will have implications."

On the First Minister's decision not to appear at the AECC count, Sir Malcolm said: "He only likes to come for acclamation, he doesn't like to come and commiserate with his troops. I think good leaders should be with their troops whether they win or lose but he only wants to be the centre of attention.

"He was coming here until he got first indication that it wasn't going well and he immediately aborted it."

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