EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Scottish voters have rejected independence, deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom after a historic referendum that shook the country to its core.
The decision prevented a rupture of a 307-year union with England, bringing a huge sigh of relief to the British political establishment. Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent Thursday against independence in a vote that saw an unprecedented turnout.
A majority of voters did not embrace Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s impassioned plea to launch a new state, choosing instead the security offered by remaining in the United Kingdom.
“We have chosen unity over division,” Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, said early Friday in Glasgow. “Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.”
Chief vote counting officer Mary Pitcaithly said even though one of Scotland’s 32 regions had yet to state its vote total “it is clear the majority have voted `No’ to the referendum question.”
Salmond conceded defeat and called on Scots to accept the results of the vote.
“This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics,” he said, insisting that London-based politicians were now expected to honor their promises of giving more powers to Scotland.
The No campaign won the capital city, Edinburgh, by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent and triumphed by 59 percent to 41 percent in Salmond’s home city of Aberdeen. The Yes campaign won Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, but it was not enough.
Salmond had argued that Scots could go it alone because of its extensive oil reserves and high levels of ingenuity and education. He said Scotland would flourish on its own, free of interference from any London-based government.
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 enamored with the idea of building their own country.
The result saves British Prime Minister David Cameron from a historic defeat and also helps opposition chief Ed Miliband by keeping his many Labour Party lawmakers in Scotland in place. His party would have found it harder to win a national election in 2015 without that support from Scotland.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, returned to prominence with a dramatic barnstorming campaign in support of the union in the final days before the referendum vote. Brown argued passionately that Scots could be devoted to Scotland but still proud of their place in the United Kingdom, rejecting the argument that independence was the patriotic choice.
“There is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh and Irish lined side by side,” Brown said in his final speech 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.”
For his part, Cameron — aware that his Conservative Party is widely loathed in Scotland — begged voters not to use a vote for independence as a way to bash his party.
The vote against independence keeps the U.K. from losing a substantial part of its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find a new base for its nuclear arsenal, now housed in Scotland. It had also faced a possible loss of influence within international institutions including the 28-nation European Union and the United Nations.
The decision also means Britain can avoid a prolonged period of financial insecurity that had been predicted by some if Scotland broke away.
In return for staying in the union, Scotland’s voters have been promised significant — though somewhat unspecified — new powers by the British government, which had feared losing Scotland forever.