EDINBURGH: Scottish leader Alex Salmond said Friday he would resign after losing an independence referendum that left the United Kingdom intact, while Queen Elizabeth II called for “mutual respect” among Scots following a divisive campaign.
Despite a surge in Scottish nationalist support in the final fortnight of the campaign, the anti-independence “No” camp secured a clear margin of 55.30 percent of the vote against 44.70 percent for the separatist “Yes” side.
After a campaign that inspired other break-away movements, especially in Spain’s Catalonia, and opened a Pandora’s box of demands for more autonomy across the United Kingdom, turnout was 84.6 percent — the highest ever for an election in Britain.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted” and added: “Now the debate has been settled for a generation.”
US President Barack Obama said he hoped to continue his country’s “strong and special relationship with all the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
Salmond conceded defeat and said he would be stepping down from his post and from the leadership of his Scottish National Party (SNP) in November.
“For me as leader, my time is nearly over. But for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die,” he said at a press conference in Edinburgh.
David Torrance, Salmond’s biographer, told AFP: “I can only assume he’s tired and…that there’s not really much he can do beyond this”, adding that the Scottish leader will go down as “easily one of the most significant figures of the last 20 years” in British politics.
Many “Yes” activists had watched the result in tears, although Salmond urged them to take heart from the huge number — 1.6 million — who backed independence.
The queen appealed for Scots on both sides to set aside their differences, saying: “Despite the range of views that have been expressed, we have in common an enduring love of Scotland.
“I have no doubt that the Scots, like others throughout the United Kingdom, are able to express strongly-held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect,” said the queen, who is currently staying in her summer residence of Balmoral in northeast Scotland.
Despite her pleas, tensions simmered in central Glasgow as horse-mounted police were forced to separate hundreds of pro-union protesters and independence supporters in George’s Square.
Three people were arrested and roads around the square were closed as police dispersed the crowd, although smaller groups later amassed in other areas of the city centre, chanting “Rule Britannia” and letting off flares.