Alex Salmond falls on his sword: SNP chief quits as First Minister after poll defeat
Alex Salmond has resigned as Scottish First Minister after the country's voters rejected independence - ending the debate for at least a generation.
Mr Salmond said a new leader was needed to carry on the fight to take Scotland out of the Union.
It came hours after his dream of an independent country lay in ruins after Scots voted by a 55% to 45% majority against separation.
In an emotional speech, Mr Salmond said: "For me as leader my time is nearly over, but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."
He said the Scottish National Party, which he has led for 20 years, would benefit from a change of leadership, as would the parliament and the country.
Earlier the Prime Minister said the issue of Scottish independence had been "settled for a generation ... perhaps for a lifetime" in the wake of the referendum.
In a dramatic 24 hours in Scotland's history:
- The pro-Union No campaign swept to a clear victory, scoring a wave of successes in key areas including Mr Salmond's own Aberdeenshire stronghold.
- The Queen said "an enduring love of Scotland" would unite the country.
- Tensions remained high with dozens of rival supporters gathering in central Glasgow, which hours earlier voted for independence.
One of the most remarkable battles in UK political history ended when the final result was declared at 8.30am yesterday.
The historic poll saw the separatist campaigners roundly defeated. It was a devastating personal setback for Mr Salmond, whose political career has been built on the promise of delivering an independent Scotland.
However, he said he was "immensely proud" of the campaign which Yes Scotland had fought to end the 307-year-old Union with Britain.
Although David Cameron has promised sweeping new powers for the Scottish parliament, Mr Salmond still felt it was time to step down.
He said: "I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, party, parliament and country would benefit from new leadership."
However, Mr Salmond said he had no intention of walking away from Scottish politics completely.
Earlier, the outgoing First Minister said he accepted his country had decided "at this stage" not to go independent.
Although Glasgow voted for independence, a series of major targets – including Mr Salmond's own Aberdeenshire heartland – voted No.
The final result was a wider margin than opinion polls had predicted following a marathon campaign, which began almost two years ago when Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond agreed a referendum deal.
Since then a heated battle for the hearts and minds of Scottish voters has been waged, dividing communities, friends and even families.
In recent days it threatened to boil over, and last night there were reports of minor disturbances in central Glasgow.
Police in George Square formed lines to separate rival groups, with reports of sectarian chanting.
It came as the Queen said Scotland's vote to stay in the Union was "a result that all of us throughout the United Kingdom will respect".
In a highly personal statement issued from Balmoral, Her Majesty called for "mutual respect and support" from both sides.
"For many in Scotland and elsewhere today, there will be strong feelings and contrasting emotions – among family, friends and neighbours," she said.
"That, of course, is the nature of the robust democratic tradition we enjoy in this country.
"Now, as we move forward, we should remember that despite the range of views that have been expressed, we have in common an enduring love of Scotland, which is one of the things that helps to unite us all."