POLITICS

Michael Gove Declares 'Union Safe' As Scottish Independence Referendum Results Roll In

19/09/2014 03:59 BST | Updated 19/09/2014 04:59 BST

As the first results in the Scottish referendum delivered comfortable majorities against independence, a senior member of the Westminster Government declared that he believes the United Kingdom is "safe". Voters rejected independence not only in the No strongholds of Orkney and the Shetland Islands, but also in the key Yes targets of Clackmannanshire and the Western Isles, while pollster YouGov said it was 99% certain of a No victory after a post-ballot survey of more than 1,600 Scots found a 54%-46% majority for remaining in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a live TV address to the nation from 10 Downing Street, which is expected to set out not only proposals to devolve more powers to the Scottish Parliament, but also significant changes to the constitutional settlement for other parts of the country. Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove, a close ally of the Prime Minister, indicated that this could involve reforms to ensure only English MPs can vote on English issues at Westminster.

Asked if he thought Scotland had voted to remain in the UK, Mr Gove told Sky News: "It does look as though - and I'm keeping every limb crossed - the United Kingdom will be safe." Mr Gove said Mr Cameron was "anxious to ensure that, after this referendum campaign, we can bring the United Kingdom together".

After joining Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to promise further devolution to Holyrood if Scots voted No, the Prime Minister is facing pressure from MPs south of the border for a similar extension of powers to the English regions, or even the creation of an English Parliament.

Mr Gove said Mr Cameron's statement would recognise "that Scotland needs enhanced devolution... (and that) it's also important to recognise that the rest of the United Kingdom needs to have its position enhanced as well, in Northern Ireland, in Wales and, of course, in England".

He added: "We need to look again at the arrangements which look after the people who live in the majority of the United Kingdom and I think the Prime Minister in particular will be spelling out some ways forward which will allow Westminster to change how it operates in order to ensure that the interests of English voters are effectively protected - indeed enhanced."

Supporters of the Union were given a considerable boost by the first declaration of the night in Clackmannanshire. The area had been a key target for Yes campaigners, with Scottish Government minister Keith Brown representing the area at Holyrood.

But when the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?" was put to the voters there, 19,036 people said No - some 2,686 more than the Yes vote of 16,350. This was followed by No victories in Orkney - by an overwhelming margin of 10,004 to 4,883 - and Shetland, where No voters outnumbered Yes by 9,951 to 5,669. And the Western Isles rejected independence by 10,544 votes to 9,195.

Blair McDougall, director of the Better Together campaign, said: "We think there will be a clear No vote tonight. I think the results we have seen now from places like Clackmannanshire - which is an SNP stronghold - are encouraging." The historic referendum looked set to break records for turnout, with figures as high as 91% in East Dunbartonshire, 90.4% in East Renfrewshire and 90.1% in Stirling.

But participation was lower in some of the key cities, where Yes is relying on support in large numbers, including Glasgow and Dundee.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, of the SNP, told the BBC there were still many votes to be counted.

He said: "We have got to be really careful about making judgments on the basis of the three declarations that have taken place. The gap between the two positions is about 13,000 votes ... there are much bigger votes to be cast in other parts of the country. It's a very early stage in the night, we have big declarations yet to come, and waiting to see exactly what the position will be in other parts of the country would be good advice at this stage of the night."

After polling stations closed at 10pm, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "This has been a remarkable day. Scotland's future truly is in Scotland's hands." But the Scottish National Party leader did not attend his local count in Aberdeenshire, as he had been expected to. SNP MP Stewart Hosie insisted nothing should be read into Mr Salmond's absence, telling Sky News that this "might be the action of a First Minister who has to attend the national declaration in Edinburgh".

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson told the BBC she was quietly confident that the "silent majority" of Scots would give a victory to No. Ms Davidson said whatever the result, politics in Scotland would not be the same: "The status quo has been thoroughly smashed. Whether it is a Yes vote or a No vote, Scotland is going to change after this."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, one of the most senior Liberal Democrat ministers in the coalition Government, told Sky News: "It does look like we have secured a No vote and that is clearly very welcome. It is also important to say a No vote is a mandate for change in Scotland, it's a mandate for the strong proposals on more powers for the Scottish Parliament we have been setting out in this campaign."

Inverclyde rejected independence by the narrowest of margins, with 27,329 No votes against 27,243 for Yes.

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Scottish Referendum