Scotland looks to a new life within the Union
ANALYSIS: Onus on Cameron to now deliver the new powers that Scotland has been promised
Dejected Yes supporters at the Royal Highland centre following their loss to the NO campaign during the Scottish referendum in Edinburgh. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
Morose, Salmond knew even then that his dream of independence for Scotland - one that had burned brightly even into the final days of the campaign - was over.
By then, the post mortems had already begun, but the 307-year-old United Kingdom survives to live another day - even though it is clear that much, if not everything, must change.
Media baron, Rupert Murdoch had decided it, according to some quarters - but accidentally so, since The London Times’ YouGov poll last Saturday week had terrified the No campaign finally into life.
The poll destroyed the Yes campaign’s carefully-built image as the insurgent: “A week later, it would have been fine, because No would not have had time to fight back,” said one campaigner.
Faced with imminent catastrophe, the poll figures instilled life into a No campaign that deserved, frankly, to lose - given its organisational weaknesses and internal divisions, fuelled by deep personal hatreds.
Even before dawn broke in Scotland, however, the focus of politicians had already begun to move onto the next horizon - the new powers that Scotland has been promised it will get.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, exhausted, dark-eyed, said Scots had “emphatically” not given “an endorsement for the status quo”.
“It is absolutely clear that there has been a real demand for change and that change has to be delivered now,” she said, adding that Scots will now “have to move forward together”.
Despairing of the result, Yes campaigners believe that the promises will disappear like snow off a ditch in the face of a refusal by English Conservatives to concede more ground to Scotland.
Indeed, there is little doubt that Cameron - who would have faced questions about his own future if the result had gone the other way - may now quickly rue the offer.
It helped to get him over an immediate crisis, but he has promised to keep Treasury funding rules that benefit Scotland, but also concede it greater powers over taxation.
Many English Conservative MPs hate the idea, believing that England is already left out in the devolution regime that has brought benefits to Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
However, Scotland in 2014 is not the Scotland of 1979, when it failed to back an offer of an assembly with little powers in sufficient numbers, partly on the back of a promise of a better deal.
That better deal never emerged during the Thatcher era. Instead, it saw the destruction of its heavy industries, along with being used as a laboratory for a trial of the poll tax.
The same will happen now, say cynics, but Scots have a Westminster election next year, a Holyrood election the year after, plus, possibly, an EU referendum the year after where they will have leverage.
In the eyes of some, Salmond lost a referendum that he never believed he would fight, since the SNP majority at Holyrood needed to bring it about was never supposed to be a reality.
But it did become a reality. Salmond and the SNP must try to bury their gloom about the referendum result, and, instead, portray the SNP as the only party that can deliver the best deal for Scotland.
Scots are minded to accept the argument. The referendum campaign has driven a further wedge between Labour and part of its traditional base.
However, Salmond will hate every minute, particularly the taunting he will now have to endure at weekly First Minister’s Questions in the Holyrood parliament.
But he has a role, too, in binding together a society that has endured deep clefts because of the referendum and where wounds could take a long time to heal in places.
Shortly after 6am today, he insisted that Scots would “go forward together” as “one Scotland”, emphasising that all Scots will expect the pledges of extra powers to be honoured, in full.
“As we bring Scotland together, let’s not dwell on the distance we have fallen short..but the distance we have travelled,” he told an audience of party supporters in Edinburgh, but he stayed away from the national count centre in Ingliston, near the airport.
However, there will be attention later today and into the future in Salmond’s remark that a majority of Scots had decided to reject independence “at this stage”.
For now, it is far from clear that the majority of his fellow countrymen and women have the appetite for a repeat.
In Glasgow, the Yes campaign won by seven points - not enough to swing the result, but more than enough to threaten significant SNP gains from Labour in elections to come.
So whither Labour now? The party’s organisational weaknesses have been badly exposed during the campaign, despite the revisionism that is now already underway.
Most Labour MSPs were invisible during the campaign, or so little known that profile made little impact with the public that approves of devolution, but has little respect for the parliament itself.
Meanwhile, the party’s leader in Scotland, Johann Lamont has struggled to escape London’s grip. She had wanted to go earlier this year on a devolution offer.
In London, Ed Miliband rejected her draft document, partly on the basis of opposition to it from Scottish Labour MPs who have never warmed to devolution.
Politicians quickly learn to fight the next election, not the last.
Even before the result was declared this morning the SNP had unveiled its latest campaign against Labour, dubbing them as “Red Tories”.