Scotland’s voters have delivered their verdict – leaving Alex Salmond’s lifelong dream of an independent country in ruins and sparking a political earthquake which looks set to reverberate across the UK.
After a night of high political drama which saw the Scots decisively reject the chance of separation, the focus has shifted to London following a pledge from the Prime Minister 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 Scottish 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.
“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.”
However, the result is a devastating setback for a man whose political career has been built on the promise of delivering an independent Scotland.
Salmond saw his crusade for separation crushed by a 10-point margin.
Today 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.Tweets by @arutherfordNI
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.
There had been isolated reports of intimidation and violence at some polling stations yesterday.
Marie Rimmer, who served on St Helens council in Merseyside for over three decades, was arrested and charged with assault as she campaigned in Glasgow.
At one polling station in Balloch, at the foot of Loch Lomond, a threat - Vote Yes or else – was scrawled across the walls.
In Glasgow it emerged police were investigating allegations of fraud.
Glasgow City Council official Colin Edgar told STV that officials had discovered a small number of examples where “someone has turned up at the polling station, and when they identified themselves to the presiding officer they appeared to have voted already”.
Mr Edgar said police had been notified because of the risk of electoral fraud.
By Catriona Webster and Paul Ward
Voters in First Minister Alex Salmond's own constituency of Aberdeenshire resoundingly rejected independence.
With a turnout of 87.2%, there were 108,606 votes cast for No (60.3%) compared with 71,337 for Yes (39.6%).
Politicians from the three main pro-union parties said they were delighted with the result in the north east.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, said: "It's a terrific result and I think it's a complete rejection of Alex Salmond and the SNP's Yes message, which in my view is totally irresponsible and I think people have rejected it for that reason.
"I think it's an assertion that we are better together, that people do recognise that we have a Parliament which gives us self-government over much of what we can do and we can do more, but at the same time being part of the UK is a huge advantage."
Mr Salmond had been expected to make an appearance at the count at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre but did not arrive.
Sir Malcolm said: "This is the SNP's backyard, it's Alex Salmond's backyard. He didn't have the guts to come to his own count in his own area because he knew he had been comprehensively rejected."
Alex Johnstone, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, said: "I'm delighted at the figures.
"The key thing is that we here in Aberdeenshire, along with so many other areas up and down Scotland, have given a resounding vote of confidence in the union and we can go forward now and continue to enjoy the benefits of this economic recovery that the United Kingdom is now leading the world in.
"We will deliver on the promise of more powers. However, you must realise that one of the key things that needs to be delivered to the Scottish Parliament is responsibility for its own decisions.
"This will not be an easy path towards more powers without responsibility. This will be about the maturing of the Scottish Parliament into a body which really does take responsibility for its own actions. It hasn't been that in the first 15 years, it must be that in future."
Lewis Macdonald, Labour MSP for North East Scotland, said: "It's a fantastic result and a fantastic credit to the Better Together team and the parties that have worked together to get that result and a reflection of how north east folk are clear that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are better off in a Scotland that's in the union than a Scotland that heads off on its own.
"I think that takes for good the question of Scottish independence off the political agenda. That means that all parties are going to have to come together around a programme of self-government within the union and the kind of changes that we want to make Scotland the kind of country we want to see."
Stewart Stevenson, SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan, said the result was "not unexpected".
He said: "It's clear that across Scotland there's a very tight correlation between the votes for No and the economic income and in areas that are not doing so well, they've been voting for Yes.
"We always knew that Aberdeenshire would be a big challenge, but the challenge now is for the No campaign to deliver on the big promises that the three UK party leaders made.
"We shall be watching that with interest, and when I say we, I mean the people of Scotland who have got themselves re-engaged with politics."
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."
Scottish Independence Vote further reading