Scotland Votes on Independence

A majority of Scots votes against independence from Britain. Read our live coverage of the referendum.

Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011
Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, November 16, 2011 (Wikimedia Commons/Ronnie Macdonald)
  • 55 percent of Scots voted against independence in the referendum.
  • Turnout was 84 percent, or 3.6 million voters.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron called for a “balanced settlement” that is fair to both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
David Downing David Downing September 18, 20149:44 PM

Today is polling day in Scotland, the culmination of many months of campaigning and talking.

At times it has been an ugly affair, with “voters” sending death threats to lawmakers and people with non-Scottish accents driven out of their homes. Journalists, too, have been targeted, being spat at or told to “Fuck off back south!”

So tomorrow morning, the country that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be changed regardless of whether there is a vote for an independent Scotland or a vote for a continuation of the union.

The greatest achievement of the “yes” campaign, that has been headed by the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, has been to convince Scots they are able to create an independent state without the ripping apart of the current country, and that there will be no animosity between those who reside north and south of border.

In reality, it is much more complex. For instance, issues abound over bodies such as the BBC, financial institutions, companies such as East Coast Railways and Virgin Rail, who operate London-Scotland train services, the national grid and the armed forces, to name a few that spring to this author’s mind.

It is safe to say then that no matter which way the vote goes, there will be wounds that will take time to heal and divides that shall always now be with us.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 18, 201410:02 PM

Polls closed at 10 PM local time in Scotland. Boats, helicopters and trucks will now start delivering ballot boxes from across the country to their local counting centers. The 32 constituencies then report the results to a chief counting officer at the Royal Highland Center in Ingliston, near Edinburgh. She is expected to announce the final tally “around breakfast time” on Friday.

Sadly, there is no exit poll so we will have to wait until around one o’clock when the first results should start trickling in.

Among the authorities that are likely to declare their results early are Inverclyde and North Lanarkshire. Both are relatively poor areas that typically vote Labour. If they support independence, it could be an indication that the Scottish National Party has managed to win over Labour voters nationwide. A vote against secession from these areas, by contrast, could show that the Labour Party — which opposes independence — has successfully rallied its base to reject the proposal.

Another area that is expected to declare early is Dumfries and Galloway, close to the English border. A strong “no” vote there could indicate resistance to independence in the Scottish Borders region to the east and South Ayrshire to the northwest as well.

For the “yes” campaign, the results from Falkirk, in the Central Lowlands, which is expected to declare around the same time, will be worth watching. 80 percent of residents there voted for devolution in the 1997 referendum which led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. Weak support for independence in Falkirk would show that the Scottish National Party has failed to convince even some of its most ardent supporters.

The biggest impact will come from Scotland’s major cities. Edinburgh and Glasgow have over a fifth of the Scottish electorate between them and both are expected to declare around five in the morning.

Glasgow, the poorer of the two and full of disaffected Labour voters, could back independence, if narrowly. Many more of Edinburgh’s residents, however, were born outside Scotland and the city is Britain’s biggest financial center after London. Many in business worry that independence will lead to economic problems. Last week, Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland, among the biggest employers in Edinburgh, warned that they would shift their bases to England if Scotland secedes. High turnout in Scotland’s capital could very well determine the outcome of the referendum, given how close the two sides have been in preelection polls.

David Downing David Downing September 18, 201410:20 PM

Polls have now been shut for just over a quarter of an hour. In Edinburgh, counting has already go underway of the postal votes which were cast earlier in the month. The first ballot boxes from the polling stations are expected to arrive at about 10:45 PM local time.

As mentioned earlier, Edinburgh is the United Kingdom’s second largest financial center, after London, and is also a fairly wealthy city, so it is expected that there be a pro-union stance.

The polling agency YouGov has announced that its last poll, conducted today, will be published at 10:30.

David Downing David Downing September 18, 201410:35 PM

The YouGov poll is in and it seems to confirm the suspicion that there were many “no” voters who were simply too scared to come out publicly and state their intentions. The results are 54 percent against and 46 percent for independence. Which is a little higher for the “no” camp than people were expecting earlier in the day.

David Matthew David Matthew September 18, 201410:48 PM

A great analysis on the polls leading up to the referendum from Carl Bialik at the stats and data analysis website FiveThirtyEight.

However, this article perpetuates a common fallacy that voting for the SNP in the Scottish parliamentary election of 2011 closely correlates with a position in favor of independence. It doesn’t.

The numbers during that time and since (at least until the recent runup to the referendum) largely bear this out. The SNP won because a) they conducted an American presidential style campaign that heavily featured Alex Salmond; b) they were perceived as being able to assemble a more competent government than the other parties; and c) their chief rival, the Labour Party, failed to take them seriously as a threat until too late.

This blog post from the London School of Economics has more on the subject.

Considering that the SNP overcame similarly low popularity in the polls at the start of the 2011 election, it will be interesting to see if they can engineer another comeback.

James R. Pritchett September 18, 201411:11 PM

What of the rest of the United Kingdom? In the case of an independent Scotland, a “rUK” –meaning Rump or Residual United Kingdom — would consist of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Technically speaking, only one of those is considered a kingdom — Wales is a Principality and Northern Ireland a province (which does not preclude its status as a country). With the lack of another kingdom (Scotland or, before 1926, Ireland), the “United” part of the “United Kingdom” seems to lose its meaning.

Certainly the geographic descriptor “Great Britain” seems to lose its relevance when the state to which the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only occupies parts of the island that is Great Britain — the resulting United Kingdom would therefore be neither a United Kingdom nor a United Great Britain. It might still be a kingdom though, at least for now. How such a state would continue to name and “brand” itself might have civil servants in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office worrying about whether to change all the stationary, it has certainly been one of my idle musings on the subject.

There’s already been a lot of thought about what the new flag might or should look like. Some are content to have the remaining state considered merely as “England” (and, if pushed, also Northern Ireland and Wales) while others are insistent that the UK name and “brand” should continue — which sounds a lot cheaper than changing all the letterheads.

Scotland, however, faces a similar issue, although is arguably more along the road to success in reasserting a separate Scottish “brand”: While London is famous to tourists across the world as synonymous with things like Buckingham Palace and the Union Flag — essentially British rather than just English — Edinburgh is firmly Scottish with Saltires everywhere.

David Downing David Downing September 18, 201411:15 PM

Early expectations are that turnout will far exceed what has been seen in the last few election cycles, with a record 97 percent of the electorate registered to vote.

This can only be a good thing, for of course it means that no matter the result of the referendum, one can say that nearly all have had their say and thus the outcome is representitive of the will of the majority of Scots.

On a somewhat lighter note, some of the Scottish aristocracy are nervous about the outcome of these votes.

“As one whose family was involved in the 1707 Act of Union, I can’t really comment on the referendum,” barks one of the country’s preeminent dukes. “But the buggers are out to get us!”

The buggers in this case are those in the SNP who are trying to convince people that Scotland will be better off as its own country.

Half of Scotland’s private land is owned by fewer than five hundred people, including the old nobility, Egyptian billionaires, oil sheikhs and European bankers. With the SNP’s policies being somewhat socialist, their concerns are understandable.

James R. Pritchett September 18, 201411:24 PM

What’s more, to build on David Downing’s last update, physically mirroring the actual institutions of the state which are currently in England will prove expensive — ambassadors, diplomatic offices, independent health institutions, legal matters (at least those international parts not covered by Scots Law) and so on would all have to be established.

Considering the similarities between 1970s Labour and the SNP on economics and the role of government, it seems very doubtful an independent Scotland’s leftist government would perceive or desire any opportunity to start with a near blank state and adopt a libertarian model with few government roles, making the job of building up a state apparatus even more costly and difficult.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 18, 201411:53 PM

Most British newspapers have urged the Scots to vote against secession.

The Financial Times describes independence as a “fool’s errand, one fraught with danger and uncertainty” — not least among them, what money it would use. “The currency uncertainty will blight every aspect of the Scottish economy,” the newspaper warns, “from commercial lending to mortgages. Without total clarity, every Scottish citizen is left exposed.”

The Economist frets especially about the ramifications for the United Kingdom internationally. “The rump of Britain would be diminished in every international forum,” it argues: “why should anyone heed a country whose own people shun it? Since Britain broadly stands for free trade and the maintenance of international order, this would be bad for the world.”

“Britain would also be more likely to leave the European Union,” The Economist points out, “since Scots are better disposed to Europe than are the English.” If Scottish voters do not participate in the referendum on European Union membership that is expected to be called, following a Conservative victory, in 2017, a vote to leave the bloc is more likely.

Reuters’ Hugo Dixon confirms that, writing there is two-in-three chance that the remaining United Kingdom will quit the European Union if Scotland secedes.

The Daily Telegraph, a conservative newspaper, worries less about the risks of independence. “We have never doubted that the Scots can be an independent people once again; and they will make a good fist of it if they do decide to go it alone,” it writes. “They have always remained a nation within the union. Indeed, that was its point. But together we have been stronger, more prosperous and more secure; apart we would both be diminished.”

On the left, The Guardian argues that the very fact that Scots are so divided on the issue is “a weakness in the case for independence. Moves of such import should command enduring and overwhelming support.”

The Independent agrees, lamenting that a narrow vote in favor of independence “will leave a huge swathe of Scotland living in a country whose government was alien to their wishes.” It appeals to what it believes are the United Kingdom’s best qualities to preserve the union: “its ability to link together a vast array of peoples, without binding them down; its phlegmatic disposition; its acceptance that borders are increasingly porous in a world where money and people move freely, and the best place to stand on them is facing out, with the hand of welcome extended — not looking in, with a cold shoulder set to the future.”

The Scottish version of The Sun, Britain’s largest tabloid, would not argue against independence outright but did caution on Wednesday that the Scottish National Party’s economic promises “can at times seem like wishful thinking.”

Moreover, the paper criticized First Minister Alex Salmond’s plans to join the European Union, writing, “It is illogical for Scotland to cut its ties with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, only then to hand that power to an undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels.”

David Matthew David Matthew September 19, 201412:04 AM

Reuters points out the real winner in the Scottish referendum: Edinburgh’s bars and hotels.

However, the longer term economic implications of a Scottish victory are far from clear. There are not many contemporary examples of countries intentionally decoupling. What is more certain is that some form of austerity will be in place regardless of the outcome, as The Guardian‘s Larry Elliott explains.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 201412:23 AM

What would an independent Scotland look like? Last week, the Wikistrat consultancy (for which the author is a contributing analyst and project manager) published a report that gave four possible answers in the form of master scenarios for an independent Scotland by the year 2020. These narratives were based on a crowdsourced, strategic simulation the company conducted online, involving dozens of analysts.

In aggregate, Wikistrat says the scenarios show independence offers only modest rewards and many risks, including the chance that Scotland’s situation becomes so dire that it is forced to seek reunification with the United Kingdom.

The report is publicly available and can be downloaded here.

David Downing David Downing September 19, 20141:01 AM

There is still no results coming through, although counting is now underway in most of the 32 councils.

There are many indices that could be used to gauge which way people will vote. For instance, those who identify as British are of course more likely to vote “no” and there are a concentration of these people in the Highlands and Islands and also Edinburgh.

One can also look at other statistics such as levels of income, for it is assumed that those on a lower income, or even those on benefits, are more likely to favor independence, due to the fact that the SNP has a more leftist policy agenda, as evidenced by such things as the removal of prescription fees.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20141:30 AM

First results are in from Clackmannanshire, a county of about fifty thousand across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. In the local council, Labour and the Scottish National Party both have eight seats there. A 54 percent majority of residents voted against independence with turnout at 88.6 percent.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20142:03 AM

Orkney, the islands northeast of mainland Scotland, were second to declare this morning. Opposition to independence was overwhelming. With just under 84 percent of the archipelago’s residents participating in the referendum, two in three voted against secession.

Orkney, like the Shetland Islands further north, is solid Liberal Democrat territory. Its representatives to both the House of Commons in London and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburg are liberals.

The prospect of Scottish independence has triggered something of a separatist movement in Orkney and Shetland of its own, with both island groups suggesting they could split from Scotland and rejoin the United Kingdom if the former votes for independence.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20142:28 AM

Clackmannanshire and Orkney together only have 1.3 percent of the Scottish electorate so it’s a bit early to read too much into the combined results. All the same, if we put the two together, we find that 42.2 percent of Scots has now voted for independence and 57.8 percent has voted against.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20142:30 AM

As in Orkney, two in three voters in Shetland voted against independence. That puts the “no” camp at 59 percent nationwide.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20142:47 AM

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions that he should resign if Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom but Daniel Berman, a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, argues at The Restless Realist that he could yet find himself under pressure to do so — not so much because of Scotland’s secession itself but rather because the political circumstances in the remainder of the United Kingdom will have changed profoundly.

Given Scots’ disproportionate preference for Labour in national elections, independence for the region would lead to a surge in the British right wing vote. Berman points out that the combined vote of Cameron’s Conservative Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants to take Britain out of the European Union, would rise from between 45 and 47 percent to between 51 and 54 percent. “This will increase the conviction that the key to the best possible performance if not victory for the Conservative Party next year will be to consolidate the vote on the right and to bring as many UKIP voters back into the fold,” writes Berman. That is something the centrist Cameron is not well positioned to do.

If Cameron is replaced by a hardliner — Berman think Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, is the best candidate — it could make the negotiations that are supposed to follow the referendum much tougher for the Scots.

Polls already show landslide opposition to allowing a currency union and to providing any financial aid to an independent Scotland and with the SNP talking defaulting on their share of the national debt while bragging about their oil wealth it’s likely a harder line will be more popular than not.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 19, 20143:02 AM

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Outer Hebrides islands off Scotland’s western coast, voted narrowly against secession with only 47 percent in favor of Scottish independence.

The Scottish National Party won under a quarter of the votes in the 2012 local election there. A “yes” vote was nevertheless expected. Half the islands’ residents are Gaelic speakers and the council is unique in that it only has a Gaelic name, suggesting there should be support for splitting from Britain.

Given that the Outer Hebrides only have .5 percent of Scotland’s electorate, the few thousand votes in favor of the union there have little impact on the tally nationwide.

David Matthew David Matthew September 19, 20146:00 AM

In light of the just released QS World University Rankings that placed three Scottish universities among the top one hundred in the world, it is worth asking whether an independent Scotland would be able to maintain the level of funding and research currently being undertaken at these and other Scottish universities.

A full 13 percent of Scottish university funding comes from British research councils and a further 15 percent comes from European Union grants. Both sources of funding would not be guaranteed in the event of Scottish secession.

Additionally, parents and younger Scots must be asking themselves whether or not an independent Scotland would still be able to guarantee tuition free spots for all Scottish students. With sixteen and seventeen year old voters able to take part in the referendum, their impressions of how independence might impact them could be a factor in determining the outcome of tonight’s vote.

This will be especially telling when we get the vote totals from Scotland’s primary cities which are, on average, much younger than the more rural west and north parts of the country.

David Downing David Downing September 19, 20147:29 AM

The union is still together. This morning’s result in Fife made this a certainty. The results for 31 of the 32 counts are in, with 55 percent of the electorate voting to stay in the union.

David Cameron has released a statement on the back of this that says there is clear support for maintaining the union. It is time now for the United Kingdom to come together with a “balanced settlement” which is fair to Scotland and other parts of the country.

With the “no” vote confirmed, we can also expect financial institutions to release statements stating that there is no need for them to relocate to cities south of the border, thus keeping the jobs in Scotland’s financial sector secure.

David Downing David Downing September 19, 20147:33 AM

“No” wins by 139,788 to 114,148. That is 55 percent against independence and 45 percent for secession.

More than 3.6 million Scots turned out to vote, 84 percent of the electorate.

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