Voters in Scotland have sent a clear signal to continue as part of the United Kingdom in a historic referendum vote, although there promises to be a substantial change in the 307-year union in the coming months.
Just over two million people, or 55.3 per cent of registered voters, said No to independence, with over 1.6 million, or 44.7 per cent, in the Yes camp.
Scottish National Party Leader Alex Salmond said today he will step down as first minister of Scotland and resign as leader of the nationalist party that led the campaign for independence.
Salmond told reporters at a news conference Friday he was proud of the campaign and the record turnout for Thursday's vote. "For Scotland, the campaign is not over, and the dream will never die."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking outside 10 Downing, expressed satisfaction at the result just after 7 a.m. local time on Friday and said it was time for the United Kingdom to move forward.
"There can be no disputes, no reruns. We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people," Cameron said.
"I also want to pay tribute to Yes Scotland for a well-fought campaign and to say to all those who did vote for independence — we hear you," he added.
- After the Scotland referendum: What happens next
- ANALYSIS Margaret Evans: No vote doesn’t bring satisfaction
- PHOTOS: Story of Scotland's No told on Britain's newspaper front pages
Cameron promised to honour commitments made in the final days of the campaign to Scotland, as well as explore how the United Kingdom can work best for the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- British pound rises after Scotland voters reject independence
- Canada welcomes referendum results
- GALLERY: Scotland votes No in historic referendum
The British pound hit a two-year high against the euro and a two-week high against the U.S. dollar as markets shrugged off recent anxiety Friday about a possible vote for independence. In early Asian trading, the pound jumped nearly 0.8 per cent to $1.6525 against the U.S. dollar before falling back slightly. Britain's main stock index opened higher.
Salmond, the first minister who led the independence campaign, also spoke earlier in the day to concede the result in the referendum. He spoke with three of 32 regional centres left to report. British media outlets had forecast a victory for the No side after 26 results were official.
"Scotland has by 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," Salmond said.
He praised the Yes campaign, which at that point had counted roughly 1.5 million votes, as a "substantial vote for Scottish independence."
Queen Elizabeth said on Friday she was sure Scots will be able to come together in a spirit of mutual respect after the divisions of their independence referendum.
"For many in Scotland and elsewhere today, there will be strong feelings and contrasting emotions — among family, friends and neighbours," she said in a rare statement.
"That, of course, is the nature of the robust democratic tradition we enjoy in this country," she added. "But I have no doubt that these emotions will be tempered by an understanding of the feelings of others.
The question on the ballot asked voters simply: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" and droves of voters turned out for their chance to weigh in on Scotland's future.
There were more than 4.2 million registered voters, which represents roughly 97 per cent of all eligible voters. Scotland residents as young as 16 were among the voters.
With all 32 centres reporting, there were 2,001,926 votes parked for No, to 1,617,989 for Yes. Turnout was pegged at 84.6 per cent.
It was the rarest of referendums, coming in peacetime and with a relative lack of rancour between the two sides.
"This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics," said Salmond.
Many saw it as a "heads versus hearts" campaign, with cautious older Scots concluding that independence would be too risky financially, while younger ones were enamoured with the idea of building their own country.
The Yes campaign was looking for a greater determination with oil and natural gas reserves in the North Sea, health care, and spending and taxation, among other issues.
Canada welcomed the result of the Scottish vote.
"Canada and the United Kingdom share deep historical bonds and an important working partnership," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement Friday. "We look forward to this friendship continuing well into the future."
'Devolution' talks to begin in earnest
Saying she was "personally bitterly disappointed" with the results, Deputy Scottish National Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC that Scottish nationalists "need to pick ourselves up and move on."
Cameron made an impassioned case for a No vote days earlier, warning that a vote for independence would be "forever" and urging voters to choose to stick together.
As well, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank were among the corporations threatening to move their Scotland operations to England in the event of a Yes vote.
In the waning days of the campaign, the leaders of the three major British parties made a splashy promise on the front page of Scotland's Daily Record to give enhanced powers to the country, likely entailing a series of negotiations into the foreseeable future.
"Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course," Salmond said in his concession, to a rapturous response.
Cameron announced that Robert Smith, chairman of the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, would head the so-called devolution talks process regarding taxation, spending and welfare.
Cameron said the target date for draft legislation on those affairs would be January.
Just 4 centres in Yes column
Scotland has a population of just over five million, a small proportion of the more than 64 million in the broader U.K.
Scotland is currently allotted 59 seats out of 650 in British Parliament.
Chief vote counting officer Mary Pitcaithly said with just one centre left struggling to get its count reported, "it is clear the majority have voted 'No' to the referendum question."
Clackmannanshire, the first region to report on the night, was a win for the No vote, with 54 per cent rejecting an independent Scotland.
The first six centres to report all went into the No column, with Dundee and West Dunbartonshire then becoming the first tallying for the Yes side.
The margin between the two sides for all of Scotland after eight centres reported in was just 1,400 votes — until Midlothian reported a comfortable result for the No campaign. Stirling and Dumfries followed, even more clear-cut for No.
Those pining for a break from the United Kingdom would see just two more fall into the Yes column, including the country's largest city. Glasgow's vote count came in at just over 364,000, with 53.5 per cent choosing Yes.
The capital of Edinburgh went the other way, with a No victory by over 70,000 votes.
Gordon Brown wins
The fifth centre to report was the closest of all 32. The margin of victory among 54,572 total voters in Inverclyde was just 86, with the No side on top and consistent with the overall mood of the electorate in this referendum.
Among the most prominent winners in Thursday's vote was former British prime minister Gordon Brown.
A Scot, he went full-tilt into the No campaign in the last days before the vote. Unimpeded by the kind of unpopularity that made David Cameron a hard sell in Scotland, he argued that Scots could be devoted to Scotland but still proud of their place in the U.K.
"There is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh and Irish lined side by side," Brown said before the vote. "We not only won these wars together, we built the peace together. What we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder."