Scotland rejects independence in referendum vote

Edinburgh: Scotland has voted "No" to independence – but the United Kingdom still faces its biggest political revolution in centuries.

Outside No. 10 Downing Street, barely hours after the referendum result was known, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested "English votes for English laws" should accompany the delivery of promised new powers over income tax and welfare to the Scottish Parliament.

Under this model, Scottish and perhaps also Welsh or Northern Ireland MPs would no longer have the right to vote in Westminster on laws that did not affect their nations.

This change in the basic structure of the Union would be negotiated alongside the new powers that were promised to Scotland in the last desperate days of the referendum.

But it is expected to spark a new, fierce row over what this means in practice – how the British government is chosen, how a budget is passed and whether it requires a separate English Parliament.

It could even mean that after next May's general election, the Labour Party holds a majority over Britain but Conservatives rule in England.

There were early calls on Friday for a nationwide constitutional convention. Coincidentally, next year marks the 800th anniversary of another seminal moment for the British nation – the signing of the Magna Carta.

In the end, the "Yes" vote in the Scottish referendum fell well short. The final result of 45 per cent was a slightly more emphatic result than that predicted by pollsters, though closer than most had predicted even six months ago.

Scotland's biggest city, Glasgow, voted in favour of a split from the UK – but most other regions tipped the other way.

Many strong Labour-voting areas leant to No, suggesting that Gordon Brown's last-minute barnstorming speech against independence may have brought back some of those flirting with the nationalists.

The biggest Yes win came from Dundee, with a 57 per cent vote for independence – but the result was a short-lived fillip for morose nationalists.

Conceding the loss, First Minister Alex Salmond managed a smile as he thanked Scotland for the 1.6 million votes for independence.

"I accept the verdict and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit," he said, saying the 86 per cent turnout had been "a triumph of the democratic process".

But he warned Westminster to follow through with its promise of devolved powers.

"Unionists late in the campaign promised to devolve more powers to Scotland [and] Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course," he said.

All Scots who participated in the referendum would demand that Westminster stuck to the quick timetable it had promised for reform, Mr Salmond said.

"Let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us dwell on the distance we have travelled," he said.

Mr Cameron said he was delighted with the result.

"The debate has been settled for a generation, or as Alex Salmond said perhaps for a lifetime," he said. "There can be no disputes, no reruns."

He told all those who did vote for independence: "We hear you."

Mr Cameron acknowledged that a No vote was a vote for a stronger Scottish Parliament and pledged to "honour in full" the promise of further devolution of powers.

But it followed that England, Northern Ireland and Wales should also gain a bigger say over their own affairs, he said.

"The rights of these voters have to be preserved, respected and enhanced," he said, promising a "new and fair settlement" that applied to all parts of the UK.

He had long believed that a "crucial part" had been missing from the national debate – the rights of the "millions of voices of England".

Mr Cameron said new devolved powers for Scotland over tax, spending and welfare would be agreed by November, draft legislation published by January and delivered "in the next Parliament".

The Scotsman newspaper reported that the turnout in the referendum was a record high for any election held in Britain since the introduction of universal suffrage.

Opposition leader Ed Milliband told his Scottish campaigners the result was a vote for change.

"Change doesn't end today, change begins today," he said.

He confirmed that Labour would help deliver "stronger powers for a stronger Scottish parliament, a stronger Scotland".

Devolution was "not just a good idea for Scotland and Wales", he said - though he did not directly address Mr Cameron's proposal for "English votes for English laws".

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "A vote against independence was not a vote against change and we must deliver on time and in full the package of new powers to Scotland."

Mr Cameron said the new powers for the rest of the country would be developed "in tandem with the settlement for Scotland".

Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State of Scotland, said the logical conclusion of devolution to Scotland "is a federal UK".

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for north-east Fife, agreed, suggesting an English Parliament could sit in Westminster, alternating with the UK Parliament.

However Labour has traditionally opposed "English votes for English laws".

And some Conservatives were pushing for the devolution promise to be watered down.

This story Scotland rejects independence in referendum vote first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.