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Scotland Rejects Independence In Historic Referendum

Edinburgh (AFP) – Scots rejected independence on Friday in a referendum that left the centuries-old United Kingdom intact but headed for a major shake-up that will give more autonomy to both Scotland and England.

Despite a surge in nationalist support in the final fortnight of the campaign, the “No” secured 55.30 percent of the vote against 44.70 percent for the pro-independence “Yes” camp.

After a campaign that fired up separatist movements around the world and stoked political passions across the country, turnout was 84.6 percent — the highest ever for an election in Britain.

“No” campaigners across Scotland cheered, hugged and danced as the results came in the early morning and British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted”.

“It would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end,” he said outside his Downing Street offices in London, looking visibly relieved after averting a humiliating defeat that could well have cost him his job.

Many “Yes” activists watched dejected and in tears in the streets of the Scottish capital Edinburgh, although First Minister Alex Salmond urged them to take heart from the huge numbers — 1.6 million — who backed independence.

“I don’t think any of us, whenever we entered politics, would have thought such a thing to be either credible or possible,” the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, who will continue to head the regional government, told supporters in Edinburgh.

The result reassured investors worried about the economic risks of a break-up and the pound reached a two-year high against the euro while European stock markets rallied.

The CBI business lobby group said the result would be greeted by a “collective sigh of relief across the business community”.

A “Yes” vote would have brought to an abrupt end a union between Scotland and England stretching back to 1707 and was being closely watched by separatist movements who are also now clamoring for a referendum, like the Catalans in Spain.

The British government must now deliver on promises made in the heat of the campaign to give more powers over tax, spending and welfare to the devolved government in Edinburgh.

In his televised address, Cameron said he would offer all parts of the U.K. greater local control — heading off growing demands from right-wing Conservatives and the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) for England to be given more powers.

“Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues,” he said.

In what would be a radical shake-up of the constitutional order, he said these new powers would be delivered “at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland”, suggesting legislation would be drawn up as soon as January.

Emily St Denny, a politics professor at Stirling University, said the effect was that “Scotland gains almost everything except for full independence”.

“The context is difficult because English and Welsh lawmakers are unhappy with the promises made to Scotland,” she said.

Andrew Blick, a politics lecturer at King’s College London, said: “The undertakings made in the last desperate phase of the campaign by the leaders of the Westminster parties will mean further drastic change for an intact United Kingdom.”

In Edinburgh, nationalists struggled with their emotions.

Charlotte Darroch, one of many 16- and 17-year-olds who were allowed to vote in a British election for the first time, said the result was “just crushing, quite devastating”.

“I genuinely thought the feeling on the ground was different,” said the 16-year-old, wearing a blue-and-white Scotland flag over her school uniform.

But Louise Fleming, 21, who also lives in the Scottish capital, said she was “relieved”.

“We can’t expect everything to be great tomorrow but the right outcome has occurred,” she said.

Scotland’s largest city Glasgow was among some big wins for the “Yes” campaign, but the margin was not enough to mitigate a flood of “No” votes across the country.

The indication was that better-off and rural areas had voted “No” while urban centers and poorer parts voted “Yes”.

Cameron said the referendum had produced a “clear result”, adding: “Now the debate has been settled for a generation.”

However, Salmond left the door open to a vote in the future, saying that Scots had opted “at this stage” to stay but had shown “substantial” support for going it alone.

Harry Potter author and pro-union supporter J.K. Rowling, who is English but lives in Scotland, said Scots should be “proud”, whatever their differences.

“Been up all night watching Scotland make history. A huge turnout, a peaceful democratic process: we should be proud.”

AFP Photo/Leon Neal

Endorse This: Groundskeeper Willie’s Guide To Scottish Independence

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Today, voters head to the polls to determine whether or not Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. Which side should win? According to Groundskeeper Willie, the choice is clear.

Click above to see The Simpsons’ guide to Scottish independence — then share this video!

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For The Love Of Scotland

WASHINGTON — Scotland’s referendum on independence will be decided by voters whose hearts say yes but whose heads say no.

This is why the energy of the campaign in one of the most consequential democratic consultations in history has been with the Yes side. Passion, imagination and hope are always more inspiring than reason, calculation and doubt. That will make Thursday’s result close, but it’s also why Scotland is likely to choose to remain part of the United Kingdom.

I know all of this because I would be one of those swing voters.

My affection for Scottish nationalism came to life 40 years ago in Glasgow’s Govan neighborhood thanks to an extraordinary woman named Margo MacDonald. Govan was the sort of place outsiders would describe as a slum, a collection of empty lots, half-abandoned buildings and decaying business districts. It was, said the then 30-year-old MacDonald, “the most desolate part of Glasgow.” But it was also a neighborhood with a deep sense of community feeling, a place, she said, where “the people have still not given up.”

Just a few months earlier, MacDonald had electrified Britain by winning a by-election for the Scottish National Party in one of the Labour Party’s safest seats in the country. “You could put a donkey up in Govan, and if it had a Labour button on him, he’d win,” a local politician said.

MacDonald made donkeys of the complacent local Labour folk. A towering woman who had studied to be a physical education teacher and worked as a barmaid (or “publican,” as the newspapers would put it), she was as rousing a campaigner as I have ever met.

She’d pull up to vast public housing estates, stand on the back of a flatbed truck and bellow up to the hundreds of windows. Slowly, faces would appear to hear her preach the nationalist gospel, rooted in a condemnation of both the Labour and Conservative parties and their indifference to the neighborhood’s travails. And she’d always close with a resounding cry. “Vote for yourselves!” she’d shout. “Vote for Govan!” I wish I could properly render her Lanarkshire accent.

MacDonald lost that election by just 543 votes but went on to an exemplary career, eventually ending up in the Scottish Parliament as an independent. No party, not even the Scot Nats, could contain this free spirit, who died in April at the age of 70.

I encountered MacDonald in February 1974 when I was a graduate student in Britain. Prime Minister Edward Heath had called an election and my friend Bud Sheppard and I traveled by bus, train and occasionally our thumbs to learn about British politics from the ground up.

One of the things I learned is why the Scottish Nationalists have come so close to achieving independence. There’s a sometimes harshly negative aspect to their argument against Tory Britain. But behind the resentment is an alluring vision of Scotland, certainly one of the world’s loveliest places, as a social democratic paradise, an English- and Gaelic-speaking extension of Scandinavia. Its people would exercise power over their own affairs (“Vote for yourselves!”) free from the dictates of a posh London that knows not what places like Govan have gone through.

Yet in the campaign’s final days, the very finality of separation has kicked in. This is the Yes side’s Achilles’ heel. And the No activists, with major help from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have finally found reasons of the heart to bolster the doubts of the head — about debt and currency and how Scotland would fare on its own in a pitiless global economy.

On Wednesday, Brown, a Scot who shares in his bones the sentiments of his people about comradeship and social justice, gave the speech of his life in Glasgow pleading for union. “This is a decision that cannot be reversed or undone,” he declared. “This is a decision from which there is no going back.”

“The vote tomorrow is not about whether Scotland is a nation. We are — yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” Brown insisted. “The vote tomorrow is whether you want to break and sever every link. … What we have built together, by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder, ever.”

The best Scottish values I saw long ago in Margo MacDonald’s ferocious advocacy on behalf of the left-out people of Govan are the values that Brown spoke for in his closing argument. My hunch is that Scotland will, with some wistful doubts, choose Brown’s expansive definition of solidarity.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Leon Neal

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