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Scotland's First Minister Resigns as No Vote Leads to Hostility

First minister and independence champion Alex Salmond resigns, but says vote will still herald a new era for democracy in the UK.

by Sally Hayden and Hannah Strange
Sep 19 2014, 8:05am

Image via Getty

Tensions ran high in the heart of Glasgow on Friday night as Scotland reflected on a decisive "No" to independence in a historic referendum, a result that led to the resignation of the country's first minister and long-time nationalist champion.

Police stepped in to calm a stand-off between Yes and No supporters in the city's George Square, in the aftermath of the intense political struggle over Scotland's future in the 307-year-old British union.

A deflated Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist Party leader, announced on Friday afternoon that he was stepping down following the defeat.

"But today the point is this. The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at [Scottish parliament at] Holyrood, but the energized activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows," he said.

"I believe that in this new exciting situation, redolent with possibility, party, parliament and country would benefit from new leadership," Salmond added.

Scotland could still emerge as the real winner, he concluded.

In Glasgow, where the Yes vote won, over 200 supporters of both sides gathered in George Square. Hostile campaigners began chanting and setting off firecrackers, causing police to separate the two camps to avoid clashes between voters.

"For people like me who are committed to the democratic process and who have valued the way in which this campaign has been conducted until now, it is extremely disappointing," Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Sir Menzies Campbell said of the trouble.

"I hope that police will be able to make calm heads prevail and people will go home. The best possible thing would be a heavy shower in George Square. That is often a way of dispersing people who are ready to make trouble," he added.

The referendum was ultimately a struggle between the vocal minority and the silent majority, yet it saw Scotland more politically engaged than ever before, with a turnout thought to be higher than any vote in the living memory of the British Isles.

The Yes campaign had ridden a surge of excitement to come neck and neck with the No camp as the finishing line approached, sending nerves coursing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom as it contemplated an uncertain future. In the end, the result wasn't even close. The No vote won by a margin of 10 points, 55 percent, to the Yes camp's 45.

On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, retiree Lizzie reacted to the news of Salmond's resignation. "I don't think he could have continued. He put everything that he had into this campaign when he announced it two years ago, but Scotland decided not to go with him."

Smoking outside The Malt Shovel pub, several streets away, Vincent Hughes, 48, said it was a shame but "there was too much arguing, and once there's too much arguing you know there's something wrong. It's like football. If you don't stop arguing you get sent off."

In Edinburgh over a hundred disillusioned Yes voters gathered outside Parliament again on Friday. A piper played a gig, and slowly one, two, five couples, still wearing their Yes regalia, began to dance. Observing the scene, Michael, 21, said "I don't know why people have come here. They just didn't seem to know where else to go."

Yes voters gathering outside the Scottish parliament.

Janet Fenton, 45, was asking people to go to a "planning picnic" at the Faslane Naval Base on Saturday. "If we're not going to get a political solution to the problem of nuclear weapons, we'll have to move back to our tried and tested methods."

Stacey Devine, 27, urged young people to stay engaged in politics.

No campaigners Nigel, 48, and Jason, 42, were moved away by the police after they started heckling one of the speakers and were subsequently threatened. Jason's view on it was that "Alex Salmond has said that it's over and we need to move on from it. But those people aren't moving on."

Downing Street has promised Scots an expansion of devolution in the event of a No vote, which has been seized upon by movements in Northern Ireland and Wales also vying for greater autonomy.

It has also reignited the "English question" — the political anachronism under which matters relating purely to Scotland are settled in the devolved Scottish parliament at Holyrood, yet Scottish parliamentarians in Westminster still vote on English-only issues. Post-referendum discussions are likely to see a concerted push from some quarters for a devolved English parliament, while some English cities are also looking at the possibility of regional assemblies.

Stacey Devine, 27, Yes campaigner, urging young voters to stay engaged with politics.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who now faces a monumental challenge in dealing with the political fallout of the vote, acknowledged the rumblings across the United Kingdom as he addressed the referendum result.

The debate on Scottish independence has been "settled for a generation," he said. "So there can be no disputes, no re-runs. We have heard the will of the Scottish people."

Now, the prime minister said, the other members of the family of nations must have their say.

"In Wales there are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers, and I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make the United Kingdom work for all our nations," he said. "In Northern Ireland, we must work to ensure that the devolved institutions function effectively."

Cameron added that "millions of voices of England must also be heard."

"The question of English votes for English laws, the so-called West Lothian question, requires a decisive answer so just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues on tax, spending and welfare, so too England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues," he said. "And all this must take place in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland."

This morning, the mood among No supporters was one of quiet contentment.

"I woke up at 6AM and watched results on the TV. I felt quite happy about it," Patricia Derey, 62, from Edinburgh, told VICE News on her way to work at a Gregg's bakery on South Bridge. "My only real reason to vote no was the worry. The worry about the prices, the worry about what's going to happen, I just didn't think that Scotland at this time can afford it. I didn't think the time was right."

This was in direct contrast to the atmosphere last night, though it wasn't enjoyed by everyone. As Scotland's counties showed their hands one by one, the cries from the Scottish National Party (SNP) after-party in Dynamic Earth at Holyrood Gait became decidedly more subdued. But the revelers gathered outside the Scottish parliament nearby — most of them young, most of them Yes voters — didn't seem to notice the increasingly hopeless results, determinedly belting out passionate renditions of "The Flower of Scotland," "When the Saints Come Marching In," and "Caledonia."

Edinburgh resident Bruce Murray, 37, was a Yes voter.

"I'm disappointed but not angry. The people have spoken," he said.

Alan Finn, 38, also a Yes voter, said that the results were expected, but not entirely hopeless.

"I've never seen an engagement like this before. People in Scotland generally feel disengaged and disenfranchised with the whole thing," he said. "I think it's a great thing for Scottish democracy that people become engaged again and I think it's a great thing for the British that they've been given a wake-up call. I want Westminster to look at the structure of government and say 'this isn't working for the majority of people.' But maybe the majority were put off by the loudness of the minority. The majority just kept their heads down and voted."

Dismay set in in the Yes camp as defeat became inevitable

Responding to a particularly loud chorus, Murray also asked how could the Scottish ever sing their unofficial anthem "The Flower of Scotland" again. "The lyrics say 'We can still rise now and be a nation again.' But we just had the opportunity. We turned it down. I might be wrong but I think the next Scottish international game is a friendly against England. It's not a matter of real national importance, but we need a new song. I personally would suggest The Proclaimers' song '500 Miles'."

In the Serendipity coffee shop on the nearby street of Jackson's Entry, Sharon Perkins watched the results come in. She's originally from Ohio, but has spent the past year doing a dissertation on independence and constitutions in the University of Edinburgh.

"I think Scotland has become awake and aware through this process," she said. "I think they have become politically activated and they're simply not going to go back and sit on their couch now that they're fully engaged in the process. So no matter what happens now it's going to be a win for Scotland because Scotland is participating now. Scotland is paying attention and they're not willing to sit down and do nothing."

A Glaswegian Yes campaigner calling himself Wee Skribbles, who dressed up as Darth Vader and chased half the Labour shadow cabinet through the streets of Glasgow last week while playing the "Imperial Death March" from Star Wars — said he was disappointed by the result, but overwhelmed by the energy of the grassroots campaign.

"I have never seen my fellow Scots to be so engaged in my 35 years on this bonny land," he said.

Turnout hit an unprecedented 84.6 percent, eclipsing the highest-ever previous turnout in a Scottish national poll: 81.2 percent in the 1951 general election. This was the first time that 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, and perhaps reflecting the age differences between the two camps, the Yes campaign won the Twitter battle 3-1, with 7 million tweets since August 5.

The vote was hailed by both sides as an impressive exercise in democracy, and one which is likely to precipitate a sea change in the governance of the British Isles, as Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland all push for greater devolution of powers from the UK parliament in Westminster

Following the early results, the pound hit a two-year high against the euro, just after 3AM local time.

The Attraction of Scotland's Yes Campaign in One of Glasgow's Suburbs. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange

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