Salmond quits after Scotland turns its back on independence

Alex Salmond has resigned as Scottish first minister, after his dream of Scottish independence was crushed by voters in yesterday's referendum by a clear ten points.

The nationalist leader said he felt "party, parliament and country would benefit from new leadership" and so is expected to step down in mid-November.

"We lost the referendum vote but Scotland can still carry the political initiative, Scotland can still emerge as the real winner," he said at a press conference at Bute House in Edinburgh.

"For me as leader, my time is nearly over. But for Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

His resignation brings to a close a remarkable chapter in the political career of a man who, more than any other, brought Scotland close to ending its 307-year union with the rest of the UK.

It follows a 55%-45% 'No' victory, after over two million voters rejected Salmond's vision of an independent Scotland.

The result is a huge relief for the Better Together campaign. Its chiefs were facing private canvassing indicating a vote-share forecast of just 50.25% earlier in the day, understands.

Financial markets have already benefited from the result, with sterling jumping to a two-year high against the euro and a two-week high against the dollar.

But the Westminster parties who united behind a pledge offering more devolution to Scotland have quickly divided after the result. Ed Miliband's call for a constitutional convention has been rebuffed by the Conservatives.

The Labour leader said he wanted to give everyone in Britain "the chance to shape their own futures with a dynamic devolution settlement".

"These issues can no longer be fixed solely by politicians or prime ministers trying to shore up their position in their own party. The people need to be given a voice too," he said.

"In the coming weeks we will set out a process to begin before the next election with every region in the country engaged in a dialogue with the people about how power needs to be dispersed, including in England.

"That process will culminate next year with a constitutional convention to discuss how we are governed."

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps said the Tories wanted to work on a cross-party basis to ensure every part of the UK receives "a new and fair settlement".

"But Ed Miliband's proposal would kick this vital issue into the long grass," he said.

"If he is serious about delivering on our joint commitment to publish draft legislation on devolving more powers to Scotland by January, Ed Miliband must say whether he supports an equal settlement for England – English votes for English laws.

"Otherwise, it will seem that – just as he has no plan to deal with the economic challenges we face – Ed Miliband is too weak to take an important decision to secure Britain's future."

The referendum result has swiftly moved the political debate on, with the drama of the current constitutional crisis unfolding rapidly in the 24 hours after polls closed.

As results came in throughout the night the extent of the No campaign's victory slowly became clear, beginning with Clackmannanshire where Yes took 46% and No 54%.

When Inverclyde failed to vote Yes, albeit by a narrow margin, it seemed clear that the nationalists were significantly underperforming.

And while Glasgow voted for independence by a margin of 53.5% to 46.5%, a series of one-sided declarations – including the Scottish Borders' 67% 'No' vote – gradually took the result beyond doubt.

The final moment came at the Fife declaration shortly after 06:10, when the 55% vote share of 'No' votes guaranteed their victory.

Speaking at the Marriott hotel in Glasgow, where No campaigners cheered result after result throughout the night, Darling said: "Every political party must listen to their cry for change, which could be echoed in every part of our United Kingdom but had this opportunity to express itself in Scotland."

Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The people of Scotland have clearly found their voice.

"With over one million voting for independence at this stage, there's a big appetite for change. What we are not seeing, emphatically not, is any kind of endorsement of the status quo."

Sturgeon will be the leading candidate in the coming SNP leadership contest, which Salmond said would help "crystallise" debate about the nationalist cause's future.

"I think this is a moment of great political opportunity," he added.

"I had to make a judgement as to whether I'm best placed to take this opportunity forward.

"The most important thing is not about who's first minister, but whether you engage the political process. I think there's a tremendous opportunity to do it but I think new leadership would be part of that galvanising process."