Clegg declares ‘Britain will never be the same again’ as poll suggests victory for no campaign

NICK CLEGG has said Britain will never be the same again as Scottish voters look set to narrowly back staying in the UK after a referendum campaign which has lifted the lid on dissatisfaction with Westminster rule well beyond Scotland’s borders.

A final opinion poll carried out after people had voted today suggested Scots would reject independence by a margin of 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

The YouGov poll based its prediction on responses of 1,828 people after they taken part in the historic ballot as well as 800 people who had already cast their ballots by post. Less than an hour after polls closed YouGov president Peter Kellner said he was 99 per cent sure that the No campaign had won.

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However speaking earlier the Deputy Prime Minister said the country could not simply return to ‘business as usual’. He said: “I think the referendum campaign in Scotland, I think it has almost surprised people how it’s not only been about Scotland or Scotland’s place in the UK, it has almost lifted a lid on wider dissatisfaction with the Westminster and Whitehall establishment and the Westminster and Whitehall state and a very real appetite to see those powers properly decentralised.”

He added: “I like to think the genie is out of the bottle now.

“I think this appetite for real devolution, this dissatisfaction with the way things are done in Westminster and Whitehall is now so strong that I would like to think that whoever is in charge at whatever level can’t wriggle free from the commitment to do something.”

Mr Clegg said he would be among those making sure that “the vested interests once again don’t disappoint the North of England”.

But the Sheffield Hallam MP warned shifting power from Whitehall to the North would not represent a panacea for the region’s problems. He added: “Standing on your own two feet more rather than having everything sorted out in Whitehall will also involve some difficult decisions,” he said.

“We won’t be able to do everything in the North of England that we want and we will have to be more responsible in the long run for the money that’s raised here locally.”

The No campaign appeared the more confident of victory last night. A poll earlier in the day had suggested a six point lead and this had increased to eight as the polling stations closed. However the way in which their lead has eroded as the vote got closer is likely to lead to recriminations regardless of the outcome. With a high turnout expected - 87 per cent of postal votes were returned - a firm result was not expected to be announced until this morning.

But it was clear the campaign – and the promises it has produced from the major parties for further devolution to Scotland – has kickstarted a much wider debate over where power lies in the UK.

It was confirmed yesterday that West Yorkshire Combined Authority will present George Osborne with devolution proposals next month ahead of the Chancellor’s autumn statement, which had already promised to focus on the economy in the North of England.

In The Yorkshire Post tomorrow, Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith challenges the county to “shape the coming devolution settlement to Yorkshire’s advantage”.

The chairman of Yes Scotland said last night he was not conceding defeat, despite a YouGov survey suggesting that Scots have rejected independence by a margin of 54%-46%.

Former Labour MP Dennis Canavan told Sky News: “I’m still optimistic ... I’m not at this stage conceding the result.”

Mr Canavan said it was “probably correct” that today’s vote would settle the independence question for a lifetime.

He said that while the Yes camp had fought a “very positive campaign, a magnificent campaign”, the No message was characterised by “a bit of negative scaremongering going on, a bit of collaboration, perhaps even collusion, on the part of the British establishment”.

Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon and No supporter Sir Malcolm Bruce said he believed that “reality has kicked in” with voters switching back to No after being briefly seduced by the Yes campaign’s message.

Sir Malcolm said: “Certainly we felt that the campaign was swinging back to our side - if it ever really swung away to the extent that people suggested - both in terms of our canvassing and the responses we’ve been getting as people came out of the polling stations.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: “It looks like we have a good turnout, that’s important.

“It has been on the Yes side quite in your face and I have had people coming to me on the doorstep and in the streets saying, whispering almost, ‘I’m voting No, I’m on your side’.

“But because the Yes campaign have been so in your face, and you have had some quite sinister points in this campaign - you had the 1,000 people trying to influence the BBC on Sunday night, you had Jim Sillars, one of the most senior people in their campaign talking about there being a day of reckoning.

“What we have got now is a timetable that makes it clear the extra powers we all know the Scottish Parliament needs to finish the process of devolution, which then unlocks the door to constitutional reform across the whole of the United Kingdom, will definitely be delivered.”