Scottish referendum results: Calm and relief in the No camp as results dash Yes hopes

Complacent Better Together campaigners see silence received on doorsteps turned into hard votes as Yes fails to win in key areas

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The Independent Online

From the moment Clackmannanshire became the first region to declare shortly after 1.30am – handing the unionists victory in a must-win region for the nationalists – calm and relief  were visible on the face of everyone wearing No badges in the Highland Hall in Edinburgh.

These emotions had evaporated from the complacent Better Together camp ever since the shock Sunday Times poll two weeks ago that put the Yes campaign narrowly ahead, but returned in full last night as votes from Scotland’s capital were counted.

Over 500 counting staff, seated at tables across the huge hall, were piling up Scotland’s future in front of them. Each sides’ tellers, crossing off votes as they piled up, saw a pattern emerging that told each a different truth.

For pro-Union No activists, the almost silent assurances they’d been given on doorsteps were turning into the hard currency of ballots that rejected independence. Affluent Edinburgh West, the corridor of the capital’s famous public schools; then Edinburgh South, Morningside and the Meadows: the ballot papers were showing a rejection of an independent Scottish state. Kenny Macaskill, the SNP’s Justice Secretary, looked forlorn far too early for someone who even a week ago was proclaiming a radical shift – an unprecedented political force – had been unleashed in Scotland. It hadn’t.

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary of State, had time to joke, to mimic Maggie Smith in her famous film role as Jean Brodie, saying “Morningside isn't voting AYE”

Sir Ming Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, had time to tell The Independent that the 54-46 victory in Clackmannanshire would mean the Noes left “suitably pleased”. The SNP needed this small key region – and they didn’t get it.

It wasn’t that the No side were overwhelming the opposition. It was the confirmation of detailed canvass returns, which showed the UK remaining united however small the margins, despite the noise and the flags and the excesses of a louder more colorful Yes campaign.

The turnouts were surprisingly high in the areas where No was winning – anything from 85 to historic highs of 91 per cent.

But in Dundee, where Alex Salmond was expected to triumph, there was audible sigh of disappointment when the chief counting officer said the turnout there was a low 78.8 per cent.

Low? In general elections anywhere in the UK, this would be massive. But for the required escape velocity from the union, this wasn’t enough.

The No team’s analysts, workers and chiefs, stayed in Glasgow at the Marriot Hotel next to the main Hydro building where Scotland’s biggest city counted its contribution to ensuring the survival of cUK (continuing) rather than the creation of rUK (the rest – minus Scotland).

By 3am the mood in the Marriot party was “very confident”. One leading aide said: “It looks like we may have lost Glasgow, but it was close. But where we have won, it’s been by a decent margin.”

By 3.30am the No side, against everything Mr Salmond had been promising for months, was predicting a final result of 56 No, 44 Yes.

In the Highland Hall, Josep Suarez, the Government of Catalonia’s head of delegation in London, wasn’t taking sides. “Whatever happens, Scotland has won tonight. The push for independence resulted in David Cameron being forced to seduce Scotland with devo-max. We hope Madrid will see what happened here tonight an take note.”

Orkney and Shetland voted to stay part of the UK and with Aberdeen expected to fall heavily – as predicted – behind a No vote, the night the nationalists expected would be an earthquake was slowly turning sour and into a night of disappointment.

But as blue box after blue box containing votes was emptied in the main hall, and with each announcement devoid of shock, and confirming that Salmond’s name wouldn’t be carved alongside Wallace or Bruce just yet, talk in the Marriot was turning to the consequences of winning.

Labour, with Gordon Brown at its head, had managed a late surge. Did it make the necessary difference? Aides around Brown and the still-nominal head of the BetterTogether campaign, Alistair Darling, were analysing figures which showed they had lost much of working class Scotland and been saved by others not traditionally on the fan list.

But they claimed there was something else happening. The referendum was held in a downturn during which working class Scotland is suffering badly. If Alex Salmond can’t win now in 2014 – then as one aide asked “When can they win?”

If that was early triumphalism, it was misplaced. The mood in the central count in Edinburgh was good – but the mood in Glasgow, regardless of the pro-union vote hanging by a thread throughout the night, was better. With the housing schemes of Scotland's biggest city failing to deliver a No vote, Labour now has to reconnect with a heartland that was prepared to ditch it - for good. Their job, despite the victory,  just got harder.