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The referendum result was a clear defeat for the campaign for Scottish independence – but when Alex Salmond, first minister and Nationalist leader spoke to party faithful in Edinburgh on Friday morning, he looked anything but defeated.

Mr Salmond’s concession speech was confident and upbeat, his acknowledgment that independence had been rebuffed was carefully conditional and his determination to secure further powers for Scotland was unambiguous.

“Scotland has by a majority decided, at this stage, not to become an independent country. I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit,” said the first minister.

The SNP has said the referendum was a “once in a generation” event, but Mr Salmond’s phrasing made clear he believes the party’s long-term dream of Scottish independence remains very much alive.

The first minister hailed the referendum as a proud moment for democracy – noting in particular the 86 per cent turnout – and he was careful to remind his Scottish National party how extraordinary it was that the campaign had turned out to be so closely fought.

Opinion polls in recent weeks showed the highest levels of support for independence in Scotland’s modern political history and the final result demonstrated that support for leaving the UK had reached far beyond the traditional Nationalist faithful.

“Friends, sometimes it’s best to reflect where you are on a journey. Forty-five per cent, 1.6m, of our fellow citizens voting for independence,” Mr Salmond said. “I don’t think that any of us, whenever we entered politics, would have thought such a thing to be either credible or possible.”

Some political observers have speculated that Mr Salmond might step down after falling short in the referendum, but he gave no hint of any such intention in his speech.

Instead he made clear the SNP would be putting pressure on the main UK parties to follow through on promises to rapidly deliver substantial new powers to the Scottish parliament.

There had been a substantial vote for independence and that Scotland had seen “the scare and the fear at the heart of the Westminster establishment” as it realised the mass movement of the people in Scotland.

“The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland,” he said. “Scotland will expect these, to be honoured in rapid course . . . all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that timetable is followed.”

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