Belfast Telegraph

Scottish referendum: Alex Salmond is to resign as First Minister and leader just hours after country votes to remain part of the UK

By Adrian Rutherford

Alex Salmond is to resign as First Minister and SNP leader after seeing his dream of an independent Scotland ended for a generation.

He told a press conference in Edinburgh that he will stand down in mid-November.

Mr Salmond said: “For me as leader my time is over. But for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.”

Salmond had been facing growing calls to quit after Scots decisively rejected the chance to break away from the UK.

It was a devastating setback for a man whose political career has been built on the promise of delivering an independent Scotland.

Speaking at Bute House in Edinburgh this afternoon, he said: “The country will benefit from new leadership.”

He said others were “best placed to take this period of opportunity forward" and to “hold Westminster's feet to the fire”.

However, Mr Salmond said he had no intention of retiring from Scottish politics.

It was a dramatic finish to a day high on political drama, which began with Scottish voters opting to preserve the 307-year-old union.

It led the Prime Minister to promise to devolve more powers from Westminster.

David Cameron said he was “delighted” by the outcome, which saw independence rejected by 55% to 45% - a far bigger margin than most polls predicted.

In a dawn address to the nation from Downing Street, the PM pledged a rebalancing of political power across the UK.

Mr Cameron said Northern Ireland and Wales would enjoy the same responsibility being devolved to Scotland.

“Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland,” he said.

One of the most remarkable battles in UK political history ended at 8.30am this morning when the final result was declared from the national count centre at Ingliston.

However, Salmond had already conceded defeat two hours earlier during an appearance in Edinburgh.

The outgoing First Minister said he accepted the country had decided “at this stage” not to go independent.

In a rallying cry to his supporters, Salmond urged the Yes voters to reflect on how far they had come.

“Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short,” he said earlier.

“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.”

Salmond saw his crusade for separation crushed by a 10-point margin.

Earlier he said: “I accept the verdict of the Scottish people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit and accept the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.”

As a dramatic night unfolded across Scotland:

- The separatist campaigners were roundly defeated, with the No side racking up 2,001,924 votes with Yes on 1,616,989.

- The No side claimed substantial victories in Edinburgh, Stirling, and Aberdeen;

- However, the Yes campaign posted a hugely significant win in Glasgow, following earlier triumphs in Dundee and West Dunbartonshire;

- Speculation grew over Salmond’s future with the SNP leader set to face calls for his resignation;

- Police were on high alert for protests as the voters’ final verdict was delivered.

Although Glasgow voted for independence, a series of major targets – including Salmond’s own Aberdeenshire heartland – voted No.

The SNP leader shunned the cameras as he boarded a private jet out of Aberdeen to Edinburgh, where he addressed a Yes rally.

His deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, was left to front up to the cameras.

She told the BBC the result was "a deep personal and political disappointment" but said “the country has been changed forever".

Ms Sturgeon said she would work with "anyone in any way" to secure more powers for Scotland.

As the scale of the loss became clear, Salmond was facing calls to resign.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson tweeted: “Delighted Scotland has voted to remain in the Union. We are better together.”

Better Together leader Alistair Darling today said he was humbled by the level of support for the United Kingdom.

Mr Darling hailed an “extraordinary night” in which Scotland voted to maintain the 307-year-old union.

A long night started when polls closed and counting got underway at 10pm.

The No campaign drew first blood when the opening result was declared shortly before 1.30am this morning.

Clackmannanshire opted to keep Scotland part of the UK with 54% voting against separation.

It mirrored an earlier poll which suggested the Scots had voted to maintain the union.

The YouGov survey, released at 10.30pm – half an hour after polls closed last night – was calling victory for the No side by 54% to 46%.

As the night progressed a wave of victories followed for the anti-independence campaign.

The Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland and Midlothian all rejected independence, as did local authorities including Stirling, Falkirk, East Lothian, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire.

However, Glasgow – Scotland's largest council area and the third largest city in Britain – voted in favour of independence by 194,779 to 169,347.

Yesterday’s referendum was the biggest exercise of the franchise in the country’s history.

Scottish voters were asked to vote Yes or No to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

After a tense campaign which has reached boiling point in recent days, police in Scotland were today on high alert for a backlash from pro-independence campaigners.

Alex Salmond's statement in full

“I am immensely proud of the campaign which Yes Scotland fought and of the 1.6 million voters who rallied to that cause by backing an independent Scotland.

"I am also proud of the 85% turnout in the referendum and the remarkable response of all of the people of Scotland who participated in this great constitutional debate and the manner in which they conducted themselves.

"We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the “vow” that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.

"I spoke to the Prime Minister today and, although he reiterated his intention to proceed as he has outlined, he would not commit to a second reading vote by March 27 on a Scotland Bill. That was a clear promise laid out by Gordon Brown during the campaign. The Prime Minister says such a vote would be meaningless. I suspect he cannot guarantee the support of his party.

"But today the point is this. The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.

"For me right now , therefore there is a decision as to who is best placed to lead this process forward politically.

"I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, Party, Parliament and country would benefit from new leadership.

"Therefore I have told the National Secretary of the SNP that I will not accept nomination to be a candidate for leader at the Annual Conference in Perth on 13th-15th November.

"After the membership ballot I will stand down as First Minister to allow the new leader to be elected by due Parliamentary process.

"Until then I will continue to serve as First Minister. After that I will continue to offer to serve as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East.

"It has been the privilege of my life to serve Scotland as First Minister. But as I said often during the referendum campaign this is not about me or the SNP. It is much more important than that.

"The position is this. We lost the referendum vote but can still carry the political initiative. More importantly Scotland can still emerge as the real winner."

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