UK

Scottish Independence Debate Has Been 'Settled For A Generation,' Says David Cameron

19/09/2014 05:29 BST | Updated 19/09/2014 14:59 BST

David Cameron has said that the Scottish referendum debate has now been "settled for a generation... perhaps for a lifetime" as Alex Salmond's dream of an independent Scotland came to an end.

Now is time "for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward," the prime minister said after the majority of Scots rejected independence.

In a historic referendum that could have altered the face of the United Kingdom, Scotland declared Britain is better together, voting to remain a part of a union that began more than 300 years ago.

Despite the Yes campaign winning a majority in Scotland's largest city, Salmond's failure to secure the win in the referendum will undoubtedly give rise to suggestions that the 59-year-old has taken the SNP as far as he can, and that it may be time for him to make way for a new leader.

Since the result of the vote was confirmed, Salmond has said he accepted the verdict of the people and called everyone else to do the same as he conceded defeat in the referendum.

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First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond Friday morning

The Scottish National Party First Minister said he accepted "the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland" and called on the leaders of the three main pro-Union parties to live up to promises of further devolution they made during the referendum campaign.

The people of Scotland have now been urged to accept the referendum result and move forward.

The Free Church of Scotland said it is time to turn away from the "self-interest" of the two-year campaign and instead start to "focus on the needs of others".

READ MORE: How David Cameron Will Tackle The Awkward Issue Of Constitutional Change

After a night of drama, the result became a mathematical certainty shortly after 6am, as the returning officer in Fife announced a comfortable majority for No in the county.

While Glasgow voted in favour of independence, the margin of victory was not large enough to give Salmond and his campaign the momentum they needed. There were also wins for Yes in three of Scotland's 32 local authority areas - Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire.

After two years of passionate campaigning that became dominated in recent weeks by ugly examples of vicious intimidation and outright bullying from both the unionist and nationalist camps, Scottish voters flocked to polling stations on Thursday to choose the fate of their country.

But in a result that will leave an almost equal number of people sighing with relief or bitterly disappointed, a close majority voted against untangling more than three centuries of political and economic union.

While there was a comfortable Yes majority by a margin of more than 13,000 votes in Dundee, the turnout in the city was 78.8% - lower than many other parts of Scotland, indicating that the Yes campaign has not managed to get voters out in sufficient numbers.

The turnout in Glasgow was even lower at 75%, with 194,779 Yes votes (53.49%) and 169,347 No votes (46.51%).

The No campaign enjoyed a comfortable advantage in capital Edinburgh and with only the Highlands left to declare, had assembled an unassailable total of 1,914,187 votes (55.42%), with Yes trailing on 1,539,920 (44.58%).

At the same time, nationalists conceded defeat in Salmond's Aberdeenshire constituency.

Salmond - whose failure to attend his local count in Aberdeenshire led to early speculation that Yes Scotland was heading for defeat - accepted in a speech at 6.15am before a One Scotland banner in Edinburgh that the country did not want independence "at this stage".

He said: "It is important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country."

"Let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us dwell on the distance we have travelled," Salmond said this morning, following the result. "We shall go forward as one nation."

"This has been a triumph for the democratic process and participation in politics" and Scotland will expect promises over new powers vowed by the Prime Minister to be honoured soon, he added.

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street shortly after the No vote became a mathematical certainty, 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.

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First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond after Scotland rejected independence in the Scottish independence referendum

In an early-morning phone call, Cameron spoke to former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, the leader of the cross-party Better Together campaign, to congratulate him on "a well-fought campaign".

The Better Together Chair said today was a "momentous day not only for Scotland but for the United Kingdom as a whole"and took to Twitter to give his thanks to supporters of the campaign, saying he felt "humbled by the level of support."

Speaking before a banner reading "Love Scotland, Vote No" in Glasgow, the Better Together leader said: "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."

Darling said all parties that had made "shared commitments to change" must now work to put those promises into action both north and south of the border.

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."

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To loud cheers from supporters, Darling concluded: "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."

Opinion polls before the results of the historic vote left the ultimate conclusion on a knife edge, too close to call until the early hours of Friday morning.

Yes supporters spent the night outside the Scottish Parliament still hoping for a result that looked increasingly unlikely as dawn approached.

But there was disappointment among the mainly young crowd, who were watched closely by police and TV crews from around the world. While some were angry after a long night of hope, others wept as the results came through.

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Scottish independence referendum results

An incredible 97% of the electorate - almost 4.3 million people — registered to vote in the landmark referendum, including 16- and 17-year-olds, who were given the freedom to vote on the future of their country for the first time.

Now, Cameron faces the difficult prospect of fulfilling promises he vowed in the lead up to the referendum in a desperate bid to appease Scottish voters disillusion by the British Government, granting greater autonomy to Scottish MPs.

After realising that public sentiment in Scotland was shifting toward a "yes" vote on independence, the government in Westminster quickly backed a series of measures that would give Scotland more control over finance, welfare and taxation - almost all matters apart from defence and foreign affairs.

Even though Scotland chose to remains a part of the UK, the poll highlighted that attitudes towards the British government will be inexorably changed forever.

In a live televised address from No 10 following the declaration of the final result, Cameron not only spelled out plans for greater home rule for Scotland, but also offered a significant rebalancing of the way the four nations of the UK are represented.

Already disgruntled by what some of them viewed as Mr Cameron's lacklustre handling of the referendum campaign, a number of Conservative MPs were dismayed by his decision to join Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour's Ed Miliband in a last-minute promise of "extensive new powers" for Scotland in the event of a No vote.

The promise means the Prime Minister will immediately be thrust into tortuous negotiations over the future of tax, spending and welfare in a Scotland operating under "devo-max".

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, Gove told Sky News: "It does look as though - and I'm keeping every limb crossed - the United Kingdom will be safe."

Gove said 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.

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."

Reacting to the result this morning, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was "absolutely delighted the Scottish people have taken this momentous decision to safeguard our family of nations for future generations."

"In a dangerous and uncertain world I have no doubt we are stronger, safer, and more prosperous together than we ever could be apart," he said.

"But a vote against independence was clearly not a vote against change and we must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland.

"At the same time, this referendum north of the border has led to demand for constitutional reform across the United Kingdom as people south of the border also want more control and freedom in their own hands rather than power being hoarded in Westminster.

"So this referendum marks not only a new chapter for Scotland within the UK but also wider constitutional reform across the Union."

Scottish independence referendum results