Scotland has said No to independence and preserved its 307-year-old union with England after a historic referendum which gripped voters and smashed electoral records.
From the Borders to the Highlands and Islands, almost four million Scots took to the polls as the nation delivered a decisive victory for the campaign to remain part of the United Kingdom, killing off the prospect of independence for a generation.
The result leaves David Cameron facing mounting pressure for constitutional change within England from politicians on all sides following the promise to grant more powers to Scotland if voters rejected independence. He is due to make an announcement later today.
On a night of high drama after more than two years of fierce and sometimes acrimonious campaigning, the nationalists led by Alex Salmond failed to persuade enough voters that Scotland brave the risks of separation and go it alone.
Scottish independence: Referendum results in pictures
Scottish independence: Referendum results in pictures
Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly on stage at the Highland Hall at the Royal Highland Centre with the final result of the Scottish Independence Referendum
Pro-union supporters celebrate as Scottish independence referendum results come in at a 'Better Together' event in Glasgow
A pro-independence supporter is pictured in George Square in Glasgow, following a defeat in the referendum on Scottish independence
Pro-independence supporters console each other in George Square in Glasgow
A pro-independence supporter is pictured in George Square in Glasgow
A disappointed 'Yes' campaigners reacting to Scotland's decision to stay in the union with a David Cameron mask at George Square in Glasgow
A dejected 'Yes' supporter in Edinburgh makes his way home in the early hours after Scotland voted decisively to reject independence and remain part of the Union
NO supporters celebrate at the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh as the final results of the Scottish independence referendum are announced
No supporters celebrate their win over the Yes campaign at the Royal Highland centre during the Scottish referendum in Edinburgh
No supporters for the Scottish independence referendum celebrate a result at a No campaign event at a hotel in Glasgow
Pro-union supporters dance in celebration during a 'Better Together' referendum event in Glasgow
Anti-independence supporters react to an early strong result for the "Better Together" campaign at the Royal Highland Centre counting hall in Edinburgh
NO ballots are stacked on a table during the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen
Ballot boxes arrive at the Highland Hall at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh after polls closed in the Scottish independence referendum
At 6am with more than three quarters of the results declared, the No camp had built an unassailable eight-point lead over the rival Yes campaign. The nationalists repeatedly failed to capture their key targets amid signs that their reportedly high levels of support had ebbed away in the polling booth.
With 31 results declared, 27 areas had turned their backs on independence, including Aberdeen, Dumfries, the Borders, Perth and Kinross, Falkirk, Midlothian, Stirling, East Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire.
Edinbugh capped the No triumph as voters rejected independence by 194,638 to 123,927 — an even larger margin than expected.
One bright spot for the Yes campaign was winning Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, as well as its Dundee stronghold. In both areas it had fought hard to persuade disengaged, working class voters who were disillusioned with Labour that a better future lay in independence.
Leading figures on both sides of the argument were agreed that the referendum battle marked a sea change in the country’s political engagement.
“I don’t think politics is ever going to be the same again. Politics is going to change,” said Labour’s Jim Murphy, the former Scottish Secretary and leading No campaigner.
Conceding defeat, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had given her “heart and soul” to the campaign for independence. But she added: “I think there are very, very strong messages for the political class in Scotland and messages we need to heed.”
Alex Salmond also taste defeat in his political backyard of Aberdeenshire, with pro-Union sources suggesting the county was set to vote to stay in the UK. Some allies suggested the veteran SNP leader would have to make a decision about his political future.
The Yes campaign also fell short in the traditional Labour heartland of Inverclyde, losing by just 86 votes.
Michael Gove, the Scottish-born Conservative Chief Whip, was the first to claim victory for the No side, saying: “It seems as though the electorate over the last few days has moved towards the ‘No’ side. It does look as though the United Kingdom will be safe.”
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, one of the most senior Liberal Democrat ministers in the Government, added: “It does look like we have secured a No vote and that is clearly very welcome.”
Around 85 per cent of Scots took part in the referendum, setting new records for turnout, with some areas reporting that virtually every member of the electorate had voted. But participation was lower in some of the Yes campaign’s key target cities, including Glasgow where turnout was only 75 per cent.
Mr Cameron is expected to respond to Scotland’s decision in a live televised address to the nation from 10 Downing Street following the declaration of the final results. The Queen is also expected to issue a written statement this afternoon regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Aides to Her Majesty were understood to be planning to gather at Balmoral, where she is currently staying, before briefing her this morning.
The statement would be an unprecedented move for the monarch, who usually remains strictly neutral on constitutional matters.
The pro-Union camp had seen its lead almost vanish over the last month, prompting the leaders of the three main Westminster parties to travel to Scotland and promise a rapid devolution of powers to Holyrood would take place following a No vote.
Coalition sources told The Independent that the mood of electors had changed in the final 48 hours before the referendum, because voters believed that the nationalists had left too many crucial questions about an independent Scotland unanswered.
The tiny constituency of Clackmannanshire was the first area to announce its results, and set the tone for the morning. 53.8 per cent of 35,386 voters opted to stay in the union, with a 88.53 per cent turnout. As a region full of working class, traditionally Labour-leaning voters, the result was an early blow for the Yes campaign.
The second result to drop was Orkney, with No votes outnumbering Yes by a margin of two to one. With a 83.61 per cent turnout, 67.2 per cent of some 35,386 voters decided against independence. Shetland also saw an easy victory, with 9,951 to 5,669 votes.
Inverclyde’s result was more teasing, with an extremely close 50.08 per cent voting Yes, and 49.2 per cent voting No.
The first Yes vote came from Dundee – which SNP leader Alex Salmond dubbed the ‘Yes City’ – with 57.35 per cent of the vote. This was followed by a more comfortable Yes win in West Dunbartonshire – with 53.96 per cent.
But minutes later, Mid Lothian declared a strong No – with 33,972 votes versus 29,370.
The Yes campaign was momentarily boosted when it grasped an unsurprising win in Glasgow - Scotland's largest city - with 53.49 per cent of the vote.
The turnout was disappointing at 75 per cent, compared to the 80 per cent turnout enjoyed in most other counts. The average turnout was 86 per cent — a record high.
In his first public comment since the results started coming in, Mr Salmond tweeted: "Well done to Glasgow, our Commonwealth city, and to the people of Scotland for such incredible support."
Well done to Glasgow, our commonwealth city, and to the people of Scotland for such a incredible support— Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) September 19, 2014
With Edinburgh and other counts yet to be declared, Prime Minister David Cameron simply tweeted: "I've spoken to Alistair Darling - and congratulated him on a well-fought campaign."
I've spoken to Alistair Darling - and congratulated him on an well-fought campaign. #indyref— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) September 19, 2014
Earlier, Ms Sturgeon remained positive while conceding defeat, and said the city's result shows there is massive demand for change in the nation.
She later told STV: "I think there are very, very strong messages for the political class in Scotland and messages we need to heed.
"If there is not a Yes vote tonight, I am deeply disappointed. As have thousands and thousands of others, I have given my heart and soul to this campaign but what has been amazing are the number of people who have never been involved in politics before, who have never campaigned as part of a political movement before, who have got involved.
"We must harness that, we must build on that. It's one aspect that leads me to say this country will never be the same.
"I'm disappointed if we don't come out of this evening with a Yes vote, I'm not trying to spin my way out of that... I'll be deeply disappointed personally as well as politically but I can't deny the fact I am also exhilarated by this campaign."
The above graphic shows the breakdown of Yes and No votes across Scotland (by John Bradley).