AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Record numbers of people cast ballots in Scotland's independence referendum. And by the time the results were in, the sun was coming up over a still United Kingdom. A relieved Prime Minister David Cameron said now the debate has been settled for a generation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: There can be no disputes, no reruns. We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.
CORNISH: In a minute, we'll speak with NPR's Ari Shapiro in Edinburgh about the repercussions. But first, he reports on the arc of this historic day.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It felt electric, the kind of occasion that comes along not once in decades, but once in generations. People lined up to be there right when the polls opened at seven. Emma Horcroft voted to keep the United Kingdom intact.
EMMA HORCROFT: We're not so different as I think a lot of people think we are, especially between England and Scotland and Wales. We have so much shared history. We have so much in common. We're much more like each other than we are different.
SHAPIRO: At the same polling place in the center of Edinburgh, Robin Thompson cast his vote for independence, saying he's tired of being represented by a conservative government in London that doesn't reflect Scottish values.
ROBIN THOMPSON: So I want an option to move away from that. I don't think that yes will solve all our problems tomorrow. I just think it will give us a chance to decide our own future and to solve our problems. So, you know, the real fight starts tomorrow.
SHAPIRO: Turnout for this election broke records in Scotland. More than 85 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, including, for the first time, teenagers as young as 16. There was a potency to the moment - Scottish people peacefully choosing how they wish to be governed. People walked around Edinburgh proudly wearing kilts, waving the saltire, the blue and white Scottish flag. And cliche though it may be, they actually did play bagpipes in the streets.
(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPES PLAYING)
SHAPIRO: After 15 hours of voting, the polls closed. And the ballots were carried to counting centers, some by ship or helicopter from remote islands.
I'm speaking in a hushed voice because I'm not allowed to distract the ballot counters that are sitting in bright neon yellow vests at tables throughout this massive counting hall. They have boxes of ballots in front of them marked yes or no. And in counting halls like this all across Scotland, people are tallying up the votes to find out whether Scotland will stay in the United Kingdom.
IAIN STEWART: I do not want to see my country split up tonight.
SHAPIRO: Iain Stewart is a member of Parliament and a no campaigner. He described his feelings as the count began.
STEWART: Very nervous, actually. The future of my country is at stake.
SHAPIRO: Gail Janney of the group Lawyers for Independence felt the exact same way - excited and very, very nervous, she said.
GAIL JANNEY: The referendum could be won by a couple of votes or a couple of thousand votes. And of course there's going to be people in the country that - a substantial number of people in the country - that are not going to be happy with the results. But, well, we'll just have to live with that.
SHAPIRO: By morning, the result was far more decisive than Janney had feared. Independence lost by 10 percentage points. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who ran the independence campaign, spoke to his supporters.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
FIRST MINISTER ALEX SALMOND: This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics.
SHAPIRO: In the final days of the campaign, British politicians promised Scotland more autonomy if Scots voted to keep the union intact. Now they say they will keep that promise, and negotiations over Scotland's future within the U.K. will begin.
CORNISH: And Ari, a few more questions. What might this negotiation look like?
SHAPIRO: Well, Prime Minister Cameron says he is committed to giving Scotland new powers over tax, spending and welfare. Remember, one of the biggest complaints from Scottish independent supporters was that the conservative government in London does not reflect the will of the Scottish people, who tend to be more left-leaning and support a stronger social safety net. So Cameron said this morning that he wants draft legislation by January and that it should encompass other parts of the U.K. too, not just Scotland.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
CAMERON: So just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues.
CORNISH: Give us some context. I mean, how big a change is this for Scotland and the entire U.K.?
SHAPIRO: It is a new chapter in the United Kingdom. But in the 300-year history of the U.K., there have been many new chapters. For example, Scotland only got its own parliament in 1999. So this is a move towards decentralizing power within the U.K., but it is nowhere near as dramatic as what we would have seen if yesterday's vote had been a yes instead of a no.
CORNISH: And finally, Ari, how significant is this turnout number for this election?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, the fact that more than 85 percent of Scottish voters took part gives this referendum a solidity and legitimacy that I think many parts of the world would envy. You heard Alex Salmond express a sentiment that I've heard from many people, that no matter what you support, this was an example of a peaceful democracy at work to be admired.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro, speaking to us from Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.