Dailymail: Britain holds its breath: Counting begins in Scottish independence vote as polls close… so is the sun about to set on the Union?

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{gallery}Scotland{/gallery}SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – A nation holds its breath: After three years of bitter campaigning, threats, warnings and lies, the Scottish referendum vote count begins – and the future of the Union hangs in the balance

  • More than 4.2million people were able to vote in the historic referendum, with turnout expected to top 80 per cent
  • For the first time in history 16 and 17-year-olds will have their say, with students stopping to vote before class
  • Final YouGov poll released as counting gets underway puts No on 54 per cent and Yes 46 per cent
  • A Better Together insider ‘promises’ a No vote, while a source in the Yes campaign admits result is ‘nerve-wracking’
  • The Queen is following events ‘closely’ and could make a statement tomorrow in response to the public’s decision
  • A former St Helens councillor was charged with assault as she campaigned against Scottish independence in Glasgow
  • First results due before 1am with the final verdict on the future of the 307-year-old Union expected at breakfast time
  • Thick fog could prevent ballot boxes being flow from the Western Islands – and Salmond’s return to Edinburgh
  • Tennis champion Andy Murray rows back from pro-independence tweet, insisting he will still play for Team GB
  • Parliament could be recalled as early as Saturday for David Cameron to address the nation on the state of the Union

Voting has finished in the historic referendum on Scottish independence, with the future of the 307-year-old Union hanging in the balance.

As the huge task of counting up to 4million votes is gets underway in 32 council areas, a senior Yes campaigner said the result would be ‘nerve-wracking’, while an insider in the Better Together campaign said they could ‘promise’ it would be a No vote.

After almost three years of bitter campaigning, warnings of economic catastrophe and allegations of intimidation, threats and downright lies, the two camps can do no more.

Alex Salmond’s political career has built to this moment, but the fate of his nationalist dream is now sealed, with the final result expected at breakfast time. David Cameron is also under intense pressure, with the risk of going down in history as the Prime Minister put the Union in peril.

Tonight Buckingham Palace said the Queen is following the results ‘closely’, with senior aides expected to meet from 1am to discuss her official response to the verdict of the people of Scotland.

A final YouGov poll released as counting began put No on 54 per cent and Yes on 46 per cent.

More than 4.2million registered to take part in today’s extraordinary vote, turnout is expected to be exceptionally high, and could top 85 per cent.

Some areas reported more than half of people had cast their ballot before lunchtime. The first results are not expected before 1am, with a race likely to be between Shetland and Moray for the first figures.

Declarations from the biggest three local authorities, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, are not expected until 5am at the earliest.

The weather could hit efforts to transport ballot boxes from the islands, with thick fog expected. Western Isles Council is working with the pilot of a chartered plane which is waiting in Oban to fly to Benbecula to take ballot boxes from the southern half of the Western Isles.

Discussions are ongoing over when to make a final decision to abort the flight and call-in a fishing boat to transport the ballot boxes by sea.

However, the contingency plan to get a shellfish boat to carry the ballot boxes may also be hindered if the sea route is also affected by the heavy mist.

Each council area will announce the total number of votes cast for Yes and No, which will be collated at the national count HQ at Royal Highland Centre near Edinburgh Airport.

It marks the finale of a remarkable battle between the country’s most senior politicians.Mr Salmond was joined by two first-time voters, 18-year-old Natasha McDonald and Lea Pirie, 28, at Ritchie Hall, Strichen, to vote in his Aberdeenshire constituency

Gordon Brown – who delivered the speech of the campaign with a barnstorming defence of the Union – voted in North Queensferry, Fife, while Alistair Darling was accompanied by his wife Maggie in Edinburgh. Labour leader Ed Miliband was in Scotland awaiting the results, but Mr Cameron stayed away.

 

The battle over independence has produced one of the most astonishing campaigns in British political history.

Former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign, has clashed with Mr Salmond across the country.

The length and breadth of the country, the debate has dominated TV talk shows, radio phone-ins, dinner table chat and seemingly every conversation in pubs, taxis, shops and schools.

For the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds were given the vote, leading to the bizarre spectacle of youngsters in their school uniforms arriving at polling stations to give their answer to the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

Mr Salmond today used a whistlestop tour of his constituency to woo last-minute voters, predicting that 99 per cent of people will be ‘perfectly happy’ with the result, the Telegraph reported.

He told an impromptu meeting of supporters: ‘What is worth voting for is not me or any political party or any politician, what they are voting for is an idea and a concept that we can actually make things better in her own country.

‘We can actually look to build, not overnight, not the day after independence, but by working hard over a period of time we can create a more prosperous economy and we can create a more just society.’

However, the campaign has caused deep divisions, with whole communities, families and even married couples disagreeing about what is right for them and for the country.

And there were threats aimed at political opponents, with the Yes campaign accused of trying to intimidate people opposed to independence into changing their vote or keeping quiet.

Graffiti was scrawled outside some polling stations, warning: ‘Vote yes… or else.’

Marie Rimmer, who had been on St Helens council in Merseyside for more than three decades, was arrested and charged with assault as she campaigned against Scottish independence at a polling station in Glasgow.

Rimmer, 67, a former leader of St Helens council in Merseyside, was arrested this afternoon after a woman was allegedly assaulted near Shettleston Community Centre in Glasgow.

The centre, in the city’s Amulree Street, was being used as a polling station for people to cast their votes in the Scottish independence referendum.

Rimmer is expected to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court at a later date.

A police spokeswoman said: ‘Police Scotland can confirm that a 67-year-old woman has been arrested and charged in connection with an alleged assault on a female following an incident at Shettleston Community Centre in Amulree Street, Glasgow, around 1pm today.

‘A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.’

Mr Salmond’s Yes campaign received a surprise boost hours before polling stations opened when tennis champion Andy Murray backed independence.

At 1.08am he wrote on Twitter: ‘Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this.’

It ended months of refusal to comment on the referendum, but critics were quick to note that Murray has lived in England for years

But with voting underway, he appeared to row back from his bullish tweet.

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline the Wimbledon winner said he had followed ‘everything’ in the independence debate over the last couple of weeks and wanted to let his feelings be known.

But he claimed the result would not affect his loyalty to Team GB in the upcoming Davis Cup tie against the United States. He also issued a plea for unity whatever the result of today’s referendum.

His remarks came after he sensationally ditched years of careful neutrality on Scottish independence with a last minute declaration of support for a ‘Yes’ vote.

The tennis star said the Better Together campaign’s ‘negativity’ had tipped him over the edge, before issuing a rallying cry to his millions of Twitter followers: ‘Let’s do this.’

But Murray said his opinion did not matter because he could not vote and predicted a narrow win for the ‘No’ side. He said: ‘I think it’ll be quite close but I expect a no vote.’

Parliament could be recalled as early as Saturday for David Cameron to address the nation on the impact of the result.

MPs could be summoned to Westminster this weekend for the most important speech of Mr Cameron’s premiership.

There has been growing speculation that if Scotland does vote for independence, Mr Cameron will have to resign, as the Prime Minister who oversaw the break-up of the Union.

However, some economists fear a vote for independence could trigger a run on banks and a stock market crash.

So Mr Cameron’s first job will be to steady the ship and provide leadership to calm the markets.

Many Tory MPs now say it is ‘inevitable’ that Parliament will be recalled this weekend, raising the prospect of the first Saturday sitting since the Falklands War.

Previous Saturday sittings were ordered on the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, the last summer sitting in July 1949 and the Suez Crisis in November 1956.

After leading in the polls for month, the No camp saw their lead dramatically eroded over a couple of weeks in August, as Labour voters in particular swung behind separation.

Former PM Gordon Brown became one of the standout fighters for the Union. After belatedly joining the battle, and suspending hostilities with Mr Darling after their friendship was destroyed by their time in government, Mr Brown attended dozens of meetings and rallies.

In Glasgow on Wednesday morning, he roared into life to give the speech of the campaign urging voters to have the ‘confidence’ to say No to independence.

He invoked the two World Wars in a dramatic appeal to the ‘silent majority’, adding: ‘What we created together, let no nationalist split asunder.’

Business leaders have warned of higher costs in an independent Scotland, shops predicted prices would rise, banks vowed to move their headquarters south and economists forecast economic collapse.

But Mr Salmond repeatedly argued Scotland’s future should be in ‘Scotland’s hands’, and saw support rise after declaring independence would put an end to Tory rule from Westminster forever.

David Cameron urged voters not to use the referendum to ‘give the effing Tories a kick’, but came under fire for not being seen more in Scotland.

During the last weekend of campaigning, the Prime Minister was pictured at a society wedding in Hampshire.

But on Monday night, in a speech in Aberdeen, Mr Cameron appeared close to tears as he pleased with voters: ‘Please don’t break this family apart.’

An emergency sitting of the House of Commons could be ordered as early as Saturday to debate the dramatic impact of the result.

As millions of voters cast their ballots, the last opinion poll of the campaign suggested No was still on course for victory.

The Ipsos-Mori poll for the London Evening Standard found 53 per cent of voters planned to vote No, while 47 per cent said they would vote Yes, after excluding undecided voters.

On Wednesday two surveys predicted No would win by 52 to 48 per cent, while another poll suggested it could be closer at 51-49.

Throughout the campaign, men have been more likely to support independence, while women were more cautious and wanted to preserve the Union.

Among Scots living in Scotland, the split has been 50:50, while a majority of people born elsewhere but living in Scotland wanted to stay in the UK.

Bookies say millions of pounds have been bet on the result. William Hill said one customer has put £900,000 on a No vote and stands to collect £1,093,333.33.

Spokesman Graham Sharpe said: ‘The Referendum has surpassed all expectations for the total gambled, with between £10-12million gambled industry-wide.

‘However, perhaps the most extraordinary aspect has been that some 70 per cent of all bets placed have been for Yes; but 70 per cent of all the money staked ha been for No.’

The result will have major implications for the rest of the UK too. As the polls narrowed 10 days ago, Westminster leaders rushed to promise ever greater powers to Scotland in a bid to persuade them to reject independence.

But it sparked calls for greater devolution to England to redress unfairness in tax and spending across the border. Transport minister Claire Perry became the first minister to break ranks to attack the ‘goodies’ offered to Holyrood to see off a ‘Yes’ vote.

It comes after the Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg signed a joint declaration promising to protect Scotland’s spending deal and give its Government extra powers to spend and raise taxes.

Ms Perry said she expected MPs to be recalled to Parliament next week whatever the outcome of today’s referendum to discuss the implications for the rest of the country.

She is the highest-profile Tory yet to attack the last-ditch ‘Devo Max’ pledge. Writing in her local newspaper, Ms Perry said: ‘Cool, calm analysis, not promises of financial party bags to appease Mr Salmond, are what is needed from tomorrow and onwards.

‘I am expecting Parliament to be recalled next week to understand the result of any proposed settlement.’

She said a No vote could result in ‘a whole raft of goodies on offer for Scotland that will be paid for by us south of the border to try to appease the Yes voters’.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association, said: ‘The Scottish referendum campaign has shown that public trust in the old ways of central control has been shattered beyond repair.

‘The devolution genie is out of the bottle. The new powers that Scotland will now receive must be given to local areas in England and Wales. The appetite for devolution does not stop at the border and the rest of the UK will not be content to settle for the status quo.’

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