An emotional Alex Salmond has just delivered his concession speech from Edinburgh. He began by thanking Scotland for “1.6 million votes for Scottish independence”, a line which brought to mind Tony Benn’s declaration after the 1983 election that it was a triumph to have secured eight million votes for socialism.
With No achieving victory before the counting was even over, this wasn’t the neck-and-neck race that the nationalists craved. But Salmond moved immediately to suggest that they could have another chance in the future. “Scotland has, by a majority, decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country,” he said. The words “at this stage” were a barely disguised reference to the “neverendum” that the Unionists fear. After a closer result than most predicted two years ago, Salmond signalled that he believes there is potential for a second vote in the near future. With the Scottish parliament now certain to win more powers, this canny gradualist believes he has taken another step towards his ultimate goal.
Whether there is another referendum at some point will likely depend on the ability of the SNP to repeat its extraordinary 2011 feat of winning a majority at Holyrood (an outcome thought impossible due to the proportional AMS voting system). It is doubtful that Salmond himself will fight another independence campaign. As I reported yesterday, nationalists believe that the 59-year-old will soon pass the torch to his 44-year-old deputy Nicola Sturgeon.