REUTERS - Scotland has chosen to stay in the United Kingdom, spurning independence in a historic referendum that had worried allies and investors, results showed on Friday with more than two thirds of the vote declared.
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Though the nationalists won Scotland's biggest city, Glasgow, they failed to meet expectations in a clutch of other constituencies. The final verdict on the union should be clear within two hours. Supporters of the United Kingdom have won 54 percent of the vote, according to Reuters calculations, and that share could climb.
The independence camp conceded that it had come up short. Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond conceded defeat on Friday and demanded the British government rapidly meet its promise of more powers for Edinburgh.
"Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country. I accept that verdict of the people," Salmond told independence supporters in the Scottish capital.
Leaders of Britain's three main parties, shocked by the strong showing of the independence campaign in recent weeks, scrambled to offer Scots more devolved powers if they remained part of the United Kingdom.
"Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course," Salmond said.
"Like thousands of others across the country I've put my heart and soul into this campaign and there is a real sense of disappointment that we've fallen narrowly short of securing a yes vote," Scottish Nationalist Party deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said.
"It looks as if it's not quite been enough and that's deeply disappointing," Sturgeon told the BBC.
Sterling rose sharply while unionist campaigners clapped, cheered and poured drinks as results were announced.
Settled 'for a generation'
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that the question of Scottish independence had been settled "for a generation." Standing in front of his office in central London, Cameron said the result paved the way for a new balanced constitutional settlement for all of Britain, including England, and that draft laws granting Scotland new powers would be published by January.
"There can be no disputes, no re-runs, we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people," Cameron told reporters.
"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.
"And all this must take place, in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland."
Late surge of support for No camp
The campaign for independence had galvanised this country of 5.3 million but also divided friends and families from the remote Scottish islands of the Atlantic to the tough city estates of Glasgow.
Breaking apart the United Kingdom has worried allies, investors and the entire British elite whose leaders rushed late in the campaign to check what opinion polls showed was a surge in support for independence.
Seeking to tap into a cocktail of historical rivalry, opposing political tastes and a perception that London has mismanaged Scotland, nationalists say Scots, not London, should rule Scotland to build a wealthier and fairer country.
Unionists had warned independence would usher in financial, economic and political uncertainty and diminish the UK's standing in the world. They have warned that Scotland would not keep the pound as part of a formal currency union.
Beyond the money and power, the referendum has provoked deep passions in Scotland, drawn in many voters who ignore traditional political campaigns and underscored what London politicians admit is a need for wider constitutional change.
A United Kingdom?
Scots were asked to answer "Yes" or "No" to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?".
Voters lined up at polling stations across Scotland to vote with 4.28 million voters, or 97 percent of the electorate, registered to vote. Turnout hit a record high.
"It seems to me that we are going to have a 'No' majority in this referendum," Danny Alexander, the Scottish-born Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Reuters.
"That's great news for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, but also just a start to the serious task to make sure that Scotland gets the additional power that it needs," said Alexander, a Liberal Democrat with a Scottish constituency.
All but two opinion polls - in August 2013 and August 2014 - showed unionists in the lead but a dramatic surge in nationalist support from mid-August prompted Britain to promise more powers to Scotland.
That has angered some English lawmakers in Westminster and British leaders have accepted that even if Scotland votes to keep the union, the United Kingdom's structure will have to change.
Cameron, who acknowledged his unpopularity in Scotland during the campaign, has drawn criticism for both putting the fate of the United Kingdom on the line and then rushing to promise more powers before the vote.
Cameron was largely absent from the campaign, leaving former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to lead the unionist battle cry.
The prospect of breaking up the world's sixth-largest economy and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has stoked concern in the United States and Europe.
The United States has made clear it wants the United Kingdom, it main ally in Europe, to remain together.