Alex Salmond today admitted defeat in his battle for Scottish independence, and vowed to abide by the will of the people.
But after 55 per cent of people voted to save the Union, he hinted he would not give up in his fight for separation, as he urged supporters to focus on how far the movement had come, not by how much it had lost.
The First Minister gave an emergency statement under a One Scotland banner, after voters rejected separation by 55 per cent, with just 45 per cent in favour.
He challenged Westminster parties to deliver on their promises, made during the campaign, to devolve more powers to the Holyrood Parliament, and said Scotland must now ‘go forward as one nation’.
In the early hours, Mr Salmond shunned the cameras to board a private jet from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, contemplating the comprehensive failure of his efforts to destroy the 307-year-old Union.
But in a message posted on Twitter he praised the city of Glasgow, one of the few places to vote in favour of independence, and ‘the people of Scotland for such a incredible support’.
He hoped to triumph in one of the most extraordinary political battles in British history, but the determination of the people of Scotland means the United Kingdom remains in tact, and Mr Salmond faces the grim prospect of being forced out of office
But if he does plan to fall on his sword, he gave no hint of it during his statement at the Our Dynamic Earth centre in Edinburgh. Suggesting he tought the issue of Scottish independence could be resurrected, 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.
‘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.’
Turnout has topped 90 per cent in pro-Union areas, but in the key working-class areas where Yes needed big wins, turnout dropped to the mid-70s.
As a Yes campaign rally in George Square in Glasgow fizzled out, officials in the city launched an investigation into 10 cases of suspected electoral fraud at polling stations.
With 24of 32 councils declared, the No campaign is building a lead on 54 per cent of the vote, as councils including Aberdeen, Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Western Islands, East Dunbartanshire, East Renfrewshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Orkney Islands, Renfrewshire, Shetland and Sterling all rejected separation.
With just a few areas including Dundee, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire backing independence so far, Mr Salmond wrote on Twitter: ‘Well done to Glasgow, our commonwealth city, and to the people of Scotland for such a incredible support.’
But he left it to his deputy Nicola Sturgeon to face the cameras and publicly acknowledge the SNP’s defeat.
She told STV: ‘I think there are very, very strong messages for the political class in Scotland and messages we need to heed.
‘This campaign has been a joy to be part of, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever been part of in my life before.’
She added: ‘If there is not a Yes vote tonight, I am deeply disappointed. As have thousands and thousands of others, I have given my heart and soul to this campaign but what has been amazing are the number of people who have never been involved in politics before, who have never campaigned as part of a political movement before, who have got involved.
‘We must harness that, we must build on that. It’s one aspect that leads me to say this country will never be the same.
‘I’m disappointed if we don’t come out of this evening with a Yes vote, I’m not trying to spin my way out of that… I’ll be deeply disappointed personally as well as politically but I can’t deny the fact I am also exhilarated by this campaign.’
David Cameron revealed on Twitter that he has spoken to Better Together leader Alistair Darling ‘and congratulated him on an well-fought campaign’.
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.’
But he said the campaign had also led to demand for constitutional reform in England as well.
‘So this referendum marks not only a new chapter for Scotland within the UK but also wider constitutional reform across the Union,’ he added.