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Deflation and elation on the night Scotland rejected independence

By Adrian Rutherford

Alex Salmond had the look of a man who had been up half the night. Slumped in the back seat of a car, his face weary and eyes closing, the strain of an emotion-churning, energy-sapping campaign had suddenly hit home.

It was shortly before 3.30am yesterday, midway through the counting of votes, and the SNP leader surely knew the game was up.

Salmond was about to board a plane for Edinburgh, ready to address a rally of Yes campaigners.

Except this would be no triumphant march on the capital.

Back home in his Aberdeenshire powerbase, his people had just delivered a shattering blow to his crusade for an independent Scotland.

Already trailing to a string of early No successes, Salmond was facing the humiliation of being defeated in his own back yard.

A few hours later he was conceding defeat before the last votes had even been counted.

Speaking under a 'One Scotland' banner, Salmond insisted the cause of independence had been furthered – not ended – by the campaign.

The dramatic image was one of the defining moments of an historic night.

A few hours later Salmond stood in Bute House, again looking weary, announcing that he would stand down as Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader.

He said: "For me as leader my time is over. But for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

It was a truly dramatic end to a momentous 36 hours in Scotland's history.

The vote itself was only part of the story.

It wasn't anywhere near the cliffhanger some had predicted or hoped for. Indeed, the bigger story was perhaps the self-implosion of the Yes vote, and the repercussions which followed yesterday.

As polls closed at 10pm, reports began circulating that the No vote had performed much stronger than predicted.

Areas which had been expected to fall under the weight of a patriotic stampede to the ballot box had stubbornly resisted.

Dundee – the heartland of Scottish nationalism, which had been dubbed Yes city – was perhaps not quite as yes as we all thought.

The publication of a YouGov poll 30 minutes later underscored the growing feeling that the No vote was ahead, and by some distance.

The survey, which sampled the views of 1,828 people plus 800 postal voters, was calling victory for the No side by 54% to 46%. YouGov president Peter Kellner said he was 99% certain the No side had won.

Of course, the only poll that mattered was the real one.

However, the reports of a strong turnout by the No side continued. After more than two-and-a-half hours of counting, the first of 32 declarations came at 1.41am from Clackmannanshire, near Stirling.

It was a clear victory for the No side – by 19,036 votes to 16,350. Significantly, the 54%-46% margin of victory mirrored the YouGov survey released shortly after the polls had closed.

The first blow of the night had been struck, and the pro-Union campaigners had a lead they would never relinquish.

Just over 20 minutes later the Orkney Islands became the second area to declare. They were always expected to deliver a strong No result, but this was emphatic – 10,004 votes to 4,883.

One notable statistic was the remarkably high turnout.

This was the biggest decision Scotland had faced in living memory, and it drew the biggest exercise of the franchise in its history.

Turnout reached 91% in East Dunbartonshire, also topping 90% in East Renfrewshire and Stirling. As the minutes ticked by, more results filtered in.

Just after 2.45am Shetland's count revealed a 64%-36% split in favour of maintaining the Union.

By 3am the Government's chief whip Michael Gove was all but calling victory for the No team.

"It seems as though the electorate over the last few days has moved towards the No side," he said. "It appears to be the case that, fingers crossed, the United Kingdom will stay together."

That seemed a little premature, with 29 of the 32 areas still to declare.

But as the trickle of results gathered pace, the No bloc continued to swell.

The Western Isles were next to declare – again, No was the verdict. Inverclyde soon followed. Then Renfrewshire.

Reports were also coming in that Salmond's heartland of Aberdeenshire was set to deliver a massive No vote.

Those reports gathered momentum as a photograph emerged of Salmond, ashen-faced and weary, as he was being driven to a private plane.

He had scrapped an appearance at his local count and was heading straight to the capital.

The Yes side's first success of the night came at 4am with the expected victory in Dundee. However it was a slender win – just 51% to 49%.

A second Yes vote in West Dunbartonshire was a timely boost, but a string of No verdicts followed.

Midlothian, East Lothian, Stirling and Falkirk declared within eight minutes of each other. All dismissed the chance of separation.

Approaching 4.30am, 12 areas had declared, and it was 10-2 to the No side.

Another wave of No declarations further tilted the balance as the Yes campaign's dreams of independence faded fast.

Much of the pre-polling day focus had centred on Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city, and a hotbed of religious and cultural division. The battle for hearts and minds had been particularly toxic there, and the Yes side's victory was always going to draw rousing cheers when it was declared at 4.53am. Perhaps it was partly because they knew that would be the high point of a disappointing night.

More followed before the big one, at 6.08am, with Aberdeenshire rejecting separation by 108,606 votes to 71,337. It was a personal body blow for Salmond.

Gradually the media hall was emptying as the outcome became inevitable.

More results filtered through, with the overall tally putting the No vote ahead by 55% to 45%.

The inevitable was confirmed just before 5.20am when the SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon conceded defeat.

The Scottish Deputy First Minister said she felt a real sense of disappointment at the outcome.

David Cameron tweeted Alistair Darling, who had spearheaded the Better Together campaign, to offer his congratulations.

Salmond finally appeared at 6.15am, addressing a subdued group of supporters now bleary-eyed after an exhausting night.

Some appeared close to tears as Salmond, much more reserved compared to the figure who had roused passions in a series of barnstorming eve-of-poll rallies, said he accepted the people's verdict.

The result became a mathematical certainty shortly after 6am, as the returning officer in Fife declared a comfortable majority for the No side. Scotland had decided.

However, the story was far from over.

Soon afterwards Cameron addressed the nation from outside Downing Street, pledging a constitutional revolution for the United Kingdom.

It is a move that will have implications far beyond the Scottish borders, long after the day the Scots turned their backs on independence.

Then came Salmond's resignation. Soon a new face will be chosen to lead the nationalist push for an independent Scotland. Far from ending, the story has only started.

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