Salmond’s dream over as Scotland votes No to independence

SHAFAQNA – Alex Salmond’s dream of Scottish independence was dashed today after voters threw their support behind the United Kingdom in a result that promises to bury the separation issue for at least a generation. Despite two and a half years of frenetic, determined campaigning which threatened to shatter the 307-year-old Union, most Scots backed Britain. With 31 out of 32 council areas declared 55.4 per cent had voted No and 44.6 per cent for Yes. Turnout was 84.4 per cent. Mr Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, conceded defeat, with a handful of results still to be declared. She told the BBC that there was a “real sense of disappointment that we have fallen narrowly short of securing a ‘yes’ vote”. Mr  Salmond tweeted: “Well done to Glasgow, our commonwealth city [which voted ‘yes’], and to the people of Scotland for such a incredible support.”

The result reprieves David Cameron who sanctioned the referendum at a time when polls suggested a “no” vote was assured – only for the numbers to narrow and him to find himself at risk of becoming the Prime Minister who presided over the break-up of the UK. This morning he congratulated Alistair Darling, who led Better Together, on a “well-fought campaign”. There will be inquests, however, on how the vote was allowed to come so close. Mr Cameron is now torn between honouring his last-ditch pledges to hand more power to Scotland an underwrite its funding formula and Tory MPs furious at the “bribes” offered to secure the Union. He is expected to unveil a package of reforms to offer the English a new constitutional settlement later today to quell the growing backbench rebellion. Ed Miliband also faces questions over Labour’s failure to deliver all its heartland areas, notably Glasgow which voted “yes” by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.

It will cause deep concern within the Scottish arm of his party and prompt recriminations about the strength of the devolution offer he made to Scots.

The Union was instead secured by voters in the north and east of Scotland vindicating claims by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson that a “silent majority” had proved decisive.

After being more than 22 points behind in some polls in early summer a more vocal Yes campaign gained ground dramatically particularly after a second television debate Mr Salmond was judged to have won comprehensively.

With some polls starting to put Yes ahead, the SNP leader dared to hope that his dream of independence was at hand. A strong finish by the No campaign – aided by promises on more devolution and funding from all three Westminster leaders – checked his momentum.

Having failed to deliver for his party, there will now be pressure on Mr Salmond to quit as leader of the SNP, although he has previously said he would stand for Holyrood again in 2016.

He is also expected to try and salvage an extended devolution deal for Scotland – although Yes campaigners may be quick to accuse the Unionist parties of reneging on the pledge they made earlier this month.

Speaking exclusively to The Times ahead of the result, Mr Salmond sent a blunt warning to Mr Cameron that he must accept his legal “responsibilities” to deliver the best deal for Scotland regardless of the outcome. The move was seen as an opening salvo in the post-referendum negotiations before the outcome was known.

Although he said he would accept the will of the people if the vote went against him, he risked inflaming tensions further in a message aimed squarely at Conservative backbenchers. He said all should accept that once “it is over, it is over, particularly politicians who are not the story in this referendum, in my estimation. But they have an obligation to lead positively.”

Although the polls had been too close to call in the fortnight ahead of the referendum, the No camp’s hopes of victory were boosted immediately after voting closed as a YouGov online survey of those who had cast their ballot suggested a shift in favour of the Union. It put No ahead on 54 percent, and Yes at 46. It was conducted among those surveyed on Wednesday that had put “No” on 52 and Yes on 48.

As the postal votes were counted at Ingliston, Better Together sources said that they were splitting in their favour. And, as the first few councils declared for “no”, they became increasingly confident. The first declaration – Clackmannanshire – went 54 per cent no, 46 per cent “yes”, a greater majority for the Unionists than either side expected.

When half of the 32 councils had announced, the split was 44 per cent for “yes” and 56 per cent for “no”.

Three declarations at about 4.15am were dire for the Nationalists. In Angus, an SNP council and stronghold, went to the No camp by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. In Aberdeen, the split was 59 per cent to 41 per cent the same way. And in Perth and Kinross it was 60 per cent versus 40 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, faced the cameras when SNP strategists were already privately admitting defeat. She said the vote showed a “big appetite for substantial change” among Scots. She added: “I will work with anybody and do anything I can to deliver substantial powers for the Scottish Parliament.”

Mr Salmond had been expected to attend the Aberdeenshire count in the city of Aberdeen, and possibly fly on to Edinburgh. It emerged just after midnight that he had decided to stay in his home village of Strichen until morning.

The streets of Scotland were largely peaceful during the votes and into the night. However, the result leaves a country deeply divided and the Queen is poised to issue a call for reconciliation later today.

Although police were braced for the possibility of serious disorder after the count there were just a handful of violent incidents while the polls were open.

The worst fighting broke out and Union Flags were burned in Glasgow’s George Square last night as the tense atmosphere between groups of Yes and No supporters spilled over into violence.

A small group of skinhead, pro-union Scots were booed and chased out of the square, which had become a focal point for independence supporters.

And reports emerged after midnight of suspected voter fraud in Glasgow. Officials said there were 10 cases under investigation. Police removed some ballot papers in plastic evidence bags after voters had turned up at polling stations to be told their name had already been crossed off the list.

It followed a day of unprecedented activity at polling stations across the country, with 97 per cent of Scots registered to vote and a record turn-out expected.

Blair McDougall, the Better Together campaign director, welcomed the high turnout, which was widely predicted to top the 83.9 per cent recorded in the 1950 general election – the highest in the UK since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918.

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