AND so we are to remain a United Kingdom after all.

Despite a surge in support for independence in the last few weeks, the Better Together campaign came through with a majority sufficient to put to bed the question of independence for Scotland, at least for now.

It was a close run thing.

Certainly there will be sighs of relief in Downing Street and elsewhere that the gamble of allowing the Scots to have a vote on whether they wished to be part of Britain or go it alone came perilously close to failing. What must have seemed a safe bet almost two years ago when Alex Salmond used his unexpected majority in the Scottish Assembly to insist Westminster agreed to a binding referendum, continued to look sensible as the months slipped by and support for going it alone seldom rose above a third of voters.

But as summer drew to a close a poor showing by Alistair Darling at the second television national debate – with some additional poor handling of the matter by the BBC – set the nationalists on course for what appeared for a few heady days an unstoppable surge for the line. But the surge came too soon for the Yes campaign, prompting a massive response from supporters of the Union and, with hindsight, probably galvanising complacent No voters into taking to the polling stations yesterday.

The campaigning then is over, the result in. But what now for Scotland and indeed the rest of us?

Certainly there is no going back to the old Union. That much was promised by all three main political parties during the campaigns.

Scotland was promised greater powers in a wide range of areas if it voted no. Now those promises must be fulfilled.

In essence, say commentators, the powers over taxation and the constitution in particular will create a federal UK. And this cannot surely be restricted to just Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland too will want their nations recognised further. And what of England? Certainly there will be calls for the removal of the voting rights of Scottish and perhaps Welsh and Northern Irish MPs on purely English matters.

Will this create an English Parliament? Perhaps. Or will there be further calls for England to create its own local assemblies?

Such plans were tried once before and rejected by voters. But will the regions of England, each with much larger populations than any of the other nations in this new federation, now look at the devolved powers with new eyes and think again? The implications for Hampshire or Wessex are clear.

In a few short years we could be looking at a federal assembly here, perhaps based from Winchester the ancient capital of England, giving local people real power over finance and a raft of measures. Certainly there is a strong argument this would reinvigorate our cities, ushering in a new age of enterprise fuelled by local skills and initiative that has not been seen since the explosion of Victorian industrialisation.

In Scotland of course the aftershocks of this tumultuous event will be felt the keenest. For almost half the voting population there will be disappointment.

Independence, they had become convinced – I would say wrongly – would usher in an age of wealth and prosperity denied to Scotland through its bonds to the rest of the United Kingdom. In time many will come to realise it was a fiction; a Brigadoon sold to them by passionate supporters of nationalism, some, in truth, who genuinely believed in the theory, others who understood full well its shaky foundations.

North of the border the scars of this referendum will run deep.

As with all such battles, even in a civilised society, where families and friends have been set on different sides of the debate it will take time to heal the wounds.

There should then be no crowing.

In fact, if most of what I have outlined here comes to pass – a stronger, federated but still United Kingdom, where power has passed closer to the people to invigorate towns and cities to carve their own destinies – then we should be grateful to the Scots, even Alex Salmond, for bringing this about.

Change then is still coming to us all, just not in the way any of us imagined when the starting gun was fired in this the longest of political races.