The United Kingdom survived the threat of being ripped apart through a Scottish independence referendum, with voters rejecting breaking a 307-year-old union with England by a comfortable margin.
The vote total was still being determined early Friday, but about 54 percent appeared to be voting “no” to independence across Scotland.
It was an election that created record voter registration and turnout, with most districts reporting turnout above 80 percent and some above 90 percent.
But in the end, those voters preferred staying in the United Kingdom to going it alone as an independent nation. The level of voter involvement only made the result clearer.
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The tenor of the result was set early, when the first count completed, from the rural district of Clackmannanshire, showed a surprising 54 percent of voters opposing independence. While the vote numbers were small from the sparsely populated region just north of River Forth, the district had been counted on to vote in favor. In fact, it’s importance to a yes victory had been rated by the Scottish Parliament as 10 on a scale of 10.
That “no” loss was followed by losses in other rural districts: Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Stirling, Falkirk, and on and on, usually by similar or larger margins.
Independence triumphed in Dundee and in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, but the 24,000-vote winning margin there was dwarfed by the 70,000-plus margin the “no” campaign rung up in Edinburgh, the country’s second largest city. With only three districts of Scotland’s 32 still to report, the “no” campaign was leading by more than 300,000 votes, out of an expected total of 3.7 million.
Glasgow independence supporters told Scottish television that they were more despondent over the nationwide trend than excited at their success.
The BBC predicted a “no” victory shortly after 5 a.m. Friday.
A poll released on election-day indicated that in what had been considered a razor’s edge close election, those who changed their votes over the last days of the campaign had gone from “yes” to “no.”
Two years of sometimes bitter campaigning had come to end at 10 p.m. Thursday, when the polls closed on a referendum on whether Scotland should peel away after 307 years in the United Kingdom.
And as soon as those polls closed, the cheers, songs, and honking horns began in earnest. It was a celebration that was, if nothing else, a mark of relief that at last this nation known best for kilts, scotch and bagpipes, could get down to the business of living with whatever the results of the vote turn out to be.
Speaking on Scottish television, Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont _ firmly opposed to breaking up the union _ said that while the campaign had revealed a deep divide, there was room for everyone to celebrate the vote.
The 1707 union of Scotland and England, the foundation of the United Kingdom, came before the notion of a public election.
“A ‘no’ vote means that after 307 years of union, the Scottish people have finally said ‘yes, we do want to be a member of a United Kingdom,’ ” she said.
It’s also become increasingly evident in recent weeks that whatever the result, the vote will dramatically change Scotland and, in all likelihood, the rest of the United Kingdom. And a no vote hardly means the U.K. will return to the status quo. In fact, there were also signs that the government of Prime Minister David Cameron could be in trouble even with what is seen as a victory in Scotland.
Even before the vote totals, members of Cameron’s Conservative Party were pulling away from their leader over a pledge he made that if independence was rejected Scotland would be allowed to set its own income tax rates while at the same time receiving the same amount of revenue from the central government.
But the promise, endorsed by the U.K.’s two other leading political parties, was sure to be controversial. Many in the rest of the union have complained for years that funding levels in Scotland were too high.
British Rail Minister Claire Perry, a fellow Conservative, on Thursday wrote an article that the pledge was “hardly equitable” to residents of other parts of the United Kingdom and she criticized it as simply an effort to pacify Scotland’s prime minister, Alex Salmond, the chief proponent of independence.
“Cool, calm analysis, not promises of financial party bags to appease Salmond, are what is needed from tomorrow and onwards,” she wrote.
Throughout the day, the import of the vote was lost on no one.
James Wheldon woke early Thursday and hit the streets in a rented van plastered with posters urging voters to back Scottish independence, though he knew there was no need to remind voters to get out and vote. A record-breaking 97 percent of those eligible to vote registered to take part in the one-question ballot.
The participation rate was expected to surpass the previous record of 83.9 percent in the 1950 election. In the most recent Scottish parliamentary elections, just more than 50 percent of registered voters made it to the polls.
“People know, of course,” Wheldon said. “But I couldn’t just sit at home on this day. This is more than just an important day; it’s the important day for Scotland.”
By American standards, this has been a low-key last week leading up to a vote of monumental importance.
Signs backing one side or the other were relatively rare, with voters in Edinburgh saying they’re more common in Stirling, and those in Stirling noting that they’re only really to be found in Edinburgh. Eventually, Scots like Graham Marshall of Edinburgh admit, “Getting in the face of a neighbor with our thoughts on a vote, well, that’s not our way.”
On Thursday in Edinburgh, pro-independence cars traveled the streets playing the Proclaimers 1988 hit song (which recently has topped charts again here) “Cap in Hand.” The song notes: “I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land -- cap in hand.”
Whatever the outcome, the vote is expected to have effects beyond the estimated 4 million Scots who took part.
One sign of that was on the streets of central Edinburgh near a polling station. A group of young activists from the would-be breakaway region of Catalonia in Spain were in town to show support for Scottish independence.
Wrapped in Scottish flags or Yes T-shirts, the Catalans said that their region intends to vote on independence in November, though Spain has vowed to block any such vote.
“This is Scotland’s day,” said Marc Solanes of Barcelona. “This is their day to claim independence, and we are here to show our support for them in this effort. But we’re also here to let the world know that it will be our turn soon. We’re next.”
Zaic Holbrook, a 20 year old who said he moved to Scotland from Chicago to campaign against splitting up the United Kingdom, said he could understand the pride Scots take in their land.
“But I believe there’s strength in unity,” he said.