Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has resigned after voters in Scotland rejected independence in a tense and highly charged referendum campaign.
"For me as leader my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream will never die," Mr. Salmond told reporters in Edinburgh.
Final results showed the No side capturing 55.3 per cent of the vote, to 44.7 per cent for Yes. The United Kingdom was shaken by the vote – which narrowed dramatically in the final weeks, with one poll showing the Yes side briefly surging into the lead – but finally held together. However, even a No vote seems certain to change the shape of the 307-year-old union.
Shortly after the BBC and other networks declared the pro-union side had won, the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party effectively conceded that her side had lost the day.
"Like thousands of others across the country I've put my heart and soul into this campaign and there is a real sense of disappointment that we've fallen narrowly short of securing a yes vote," Nicola Sturgeon told BBC television at 5:30 a.m. local time.
In a gracious speech delivered at dawn in Edinburgh, Mr. Salmond conceded defeat. "I accept the verdict of the people…We shall go forward as one nation."
Mr. Salmond said he would not accept the nomination as leader of the Scottish National Party at an annual conference in November and that he would then resign as First Minister.
But he vowed to hold the leaders of the three main Westminster parties to their promise of delivering more power to the Scottish parliament. "Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course," he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to live up to commitments to Scotland made ahead of the independence vote, including plans for new powers on tax, spending and welfare.
Cameron says the new plans will be agreed by November, with draft legislation by January. "We will ensure that those commitments are honoured in full," Cameron said Friday morning.
Turnout was astonishing across Scotland, ranging from 75 per cent in Glasgow, the largest city – where the Yes side won 53 per cent of the vote – to 91 per cent in the central council of East Dunbartonshire.
The result means Cameron can breathe a sigh of relief, and avoid a possible putsch against his leadership from within his Conservative Party. But it opens a series of other political problems for his government, namely how to deliver on a series of last-days promises designed to convince Scots to remain in the fold. That debate will begin immediately.
Mr. Cameron was expected to address the nation early Friday, shortly after the final results were to be announced. The Queen – working on Buckingham Palace's assessment that the No side would prevail – was also due to release a statement Friday.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird welcomed the referendum result, saying in a statement that the "peaceful, open and democratic way in which two very different but sincere views was handled is a credit to the Scottish and U.K. governments."
A Sept. 6 poll that showed the pro-independence camp had briefly pulled ahead brought a bundle of fresh lures from London, including offers of new tax-and-spend powers for the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, as well as a guarantee that Scotland will continue to receive a higher per capita share of public spending than the rest of the union.
That has already triggered a predictable backlash – in Wales, Northern Ireland and even England – among voters and politicians wondering why Scots should have more rights than other UK citizens.
Much of Scotland went to sleep Thursday night not knowing if they would would up Friday still firmly part of the United Kingdom, or marching down the road to independence. The referendum ballot asked a single, Yes-or-No question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
"There will be a lot of disappointed people," no matter which way the vote goes, said John Curtice, a professor of politics at University of Strathclyde. "Whatever the result, things are going to change. The constitutional status quo is one thing that's been lost in the referendum."
With reports from Eric Reguly, The Canadian Press and Associated Press and Reuters