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Scotland Votes Against Independence

Scotland's referendum has ended with voters rejecting independence. Welcome to the new United Kingdom.

Cathal Mcnaughton / Reuters

Supporters of the Yes campaign wave Scottish saltire flags in central Glasgow on 18 September, 2014. Polling stations closed in Edinburgh on Thursday evening after a day of voting in a historic referendum on Scottish independence.

EDINBURGH – Scotland was offered the "once-in-a-generation" chance to become an independent country on Thursday. It didn't take it.

Instead the country has rejected the chance to split from the rest of the United Kingdom by margin of 55% to 45%. But it took the promise of radical change to the whole of the UK to secure the result that prime minister David Cameron and Westminster wanted.

Throughout the campaign, pro-independence voices were noisier, more passionate, and utterly convinced of victory.

Even on the night, Yes campaigners continued to have faith that hundreds of thousands of voters on the fringes of society, untouched by opinion polls and completely detached from politics and the media, would turn out to carry them over the line to victory. But these voters didn't come.

When the results began coming in from 2am on Friday morning it was immediately clear Yes had lost. The pro-independence campaign managed to take Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city, but that wasn't nearly enough.

Instead, a drab campaign fought by the traditional parties in a traditional manner proved far more effective than the chaotic pro-independence grassroots alliance, which encompassed the SNP, the far left, hundreds of thousands of angry Labour voters, and many more with no affiliation at all.

Despite the resounding result, the referendum has changed things in the UK, with almost half of Scots openly contemptuous of the three main nationwide political parties, treating the word "Westminster" with total disdain and considering its pledges worthless. The scorn shown to the traditional system didn't stop at politics – many in the Yes camp showed a complete lack of faith in old-fashioned media, preferring to get their information from viral posts on Facebook and Twitter.

During the campaign, Cameron pleaded with Scots to remain part of the UK, in the process accepting that both he and his party, the Conservatives, are so toxic in parts of Scotland that their unpopularity almost caused the break-up of the union. And his pledge to cede more powers means that the referendum in Scotland, which contains just 8% of the UK's population, has indeed forced major change on the rest of the UK.

Alex Salmond lost, and the Scottish first minister's political future is now in doubt. He won an unlikely majority for the Scottish National Party in the 2011 Scottish parliament elections, and for a few days last week looked as though he was about to become the first leader of an independent Scotland in modern times. Instead, he spent this morning flying through the night to Edinburgh before accepting defeat.

But the most astonishing part of the campaign was the hundreds of thousands of people who became politically engaged, including 16- and 17-year-olds, who were allowed to take part for the first time. Astonishingly, 85% of eligible voters turned up to cast their vote. Whether they continue to care, especially those who pinned all their hopes on independence, is in doubt.

Before the result was announced, Neil Hay, a Yes Scotland organiser who'd given up work to campaign full-time for independence, summed up what had happened in the country during the two-year campaign: "Win, lose, or draw… There is no status quo. Everything changes after this. There is still a movement and campaign here that has changed Scotland forever."

The Yes campaign lost. Scotland will not become independent in the foreseeable future, if ever. The majority of Scots are pleased with that outcome. But given the concessions won from Westminster and the divisions caused in Scottish society, the No campaigners will be wondering whether they like the feel of victory.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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