The Scottish electorate’s rejection of independence was greeted with delight by Prime Minister David Cameron, who said that the victory margin of around 55%-45% had settled the issue “for a generation… perhaps for a lifetime”.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street shortly after the No vote became a mathematical certainty, Mr Cameron said he would ensure that commitments to further devolution to Scotland made during the campaign would be “honoured in full”, announcing the appointment of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games supremo Lord Smith to oversee the drafting of proposals in legislation published by January.
Earlier, Scottish National Party First Minister Alex Salmond acknowledged that his long-cherished dream of leading his nation to independence was over, telling supporters in Edinburgh: “Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country.
“I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.”
In a dramatic announcement, Mr Cameron also announced plans to devolve powers in other parts of the United Kingdom.
“It is time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward,” said the PM. “A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”
In a clear warning to nationalists that it would be wrong to seek to revive the independence debate after a vote which engaged more than 80% of the Scottish electorate, Mr Cameron said: “There can be no debates, no re-runs. We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.”
And he added: “The people of Scotland have spoken and it is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together and, like millions of other people, I am delighted.
“As I said during the campaign, it would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end and I know that sentiment is shared by people not just across our country but also around the world.”
In a dramatic night of counting after Scotland went to the polls yesterday, the Yes campaign secured majorities in largest city Glasgow as well as stronghold Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire, but fell short in key targets like Clackmannanshire and Western Isles, while the No campaign enjoyed a comfortable advantage in capital Edinburgh.
With only the Highlands left to declare, No had assembled an unassailable total of 1,914,187 votes (55.42%), with Yes trailing on 1,539,920 (44.58%).
The referendum was on track to set a new record for turnout in any major election in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918, with 84.4% of registered voters casting a ballot – narrowly beating the 83.9% previous best recorded in the 1950 general election.
Mr Salmond said the referendum and the high turnout had been a “triumph for the democratic process” and promised to meet his pledge in the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement to respect the result and work for the benefit of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
He told supporters: “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland.
“Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course – as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by March 27 next year.
“Not just the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence will demand that timetable is followed but all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that timetable is followed.”
And the First Minister said: ” Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, 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.”
The leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, said Scotland had chosen “positive change, rather than needless separation”.
Speaking to activists in Glasgow, the former chancellor said: “Today is a momentous result for Scotland and also for the United Kingdom as a whole.
“By confirming our place within the United Kingdom, we have reaffirmed all that we have in common and the bonds that tie us together. Let them never be broken.”
And he told No campaigners – who had never matched Yes Scotland in terms of their visible presence on the streets and in social media: “You represent the majority of opinion and your voices have been heard. We’ve taken on the argument and we’ve won. The silent have spoken…
“The vote is over and the Scottish people have now delivered their verdict. We have taken a decision for progress and change for Scotland within the United Kingdom. Come on Scotland, let’s get on with it together.”
Mr Cameron made clear that the reforms he envisages to the UK’s constitutional settlement will involve not only changes to devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also action to deal with the so-called “West Lothian Question” over why Scottish MPs should vote in Westminster on issues which will involve only England.
“We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard,” said the Prime Minister.
“The question of English votes for English laws, the so-called West Lothian Question, requires a decisive answer so just as Scotland will vote separately on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so to England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues
“All this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland.”
Mr Cameron said: “Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs.
“The rights of these voters need to be protected, preserved and enhanced. It is absolutely right a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of our United Kingdom.”