Polls have closed in the Scottish independence referendum, and results should be complete in about five hours time (something like 3.30pm eastern Australian time, or 6.30am Scottish time). As is normal with British elections, results will be released only in large chunks: the whole of each local government area – there are 32 of them – will be counted before any figures are given.
So the next few hours will be punctuated by 32 separate announcements. In order to tell from any one result whether it’s good or bad for the cause of independence, you need to know something about that area’s predisposition to vote “yes”. Since no such referendum has been held before, we don’t have any historical data, but the strength of the Scottish National Party vote should be a pretty good proxy.
Antony Green, who as usual is technically far ahead of the run of British commentators, has compiled the relevant figures – and much other useful information as well – on this page. He plans to use them to predict trends as the results come in: you can get his live updates here.
There’s a bit of a tendency for smaller rural areas, whose results will come in first, to be more nationalist, but that’s by no means uniform. Obvious exceptions include Shetland and Orkney, which are expected to vote strongly against independence.
The big numbers will mostly arrive late in the count, although that’s subject to exceptions as well; there are lots of variables that determine how quickly votes get counted. But if the result is at all close we’ll have to wait for the two largest local government areas, Edinburgh and Glasgow, before knowing which side has won.
In the meantime there’s something like an exit poll, a survey from YouGov, which predicts a “no” vote of 54%. Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, was both admirably brave and admirably frank about the risks of bravery:
At the obvious risk of looking like a complete prat in eight hours’ time, I would say it is a 99% certainty of a ‘No’ victory … I can’t see ‘No’ losing this now.
I broadly agree with him, although I wouldn’t have put it as high as 99%. The pattern of the last couple of weeks has been very much in line with my expectations: that the “yes” vote would peak shortly before polling day on a wave of nationalist enthusiasm, but would ebb away when people actually got to the voting booths and their natural caution took over.
But I could, of course, be wrong.
Updates to follow as results come in.
1.50am Scottish time: And we have the first result, and it’s not good for the nationalists. Clackmannanshire, a tiny historic county just east of Stirling, has voted “no” with 53.8%, despite the fact that it gave a slightly above-average vote to the SNP at the last election.
The “yes” vote has to improve about 6% on the 2011 SNP result in order to win, but in Clackmannanshire the improvement is only 1.4%. Still, it’s only one area, and a very small one at that.
3.30am Scottish time: Four local government areas have now reported, all very small but all voting “no”. Two of those, Orkney and Shetland, are no surprise, but Clackmannanshire and especially the Western Isles, or Eilean Siar, are places the “yes” campaign would have wanted to win.
The Western Isles voted 56.5% for the SNP in 2011, but still voted 53.4% against independence. That’s got to be a bad sign for the nationalists.
3.40am Scottish time: Inverclyde, west of Glasgow, has just come in; it’s the biggest area so far and also very much the closest, with “no” winning by just 86 votes, or 50.1%. That’s particularly good for the nationalists since it only voted 42.8% SNP last time, an improvement of 7.1% – just ahead of what they need. So perhaps it’s not over yet.
Grand totals so far (I’m using the Guardian’s figures) are 54.8% no to 45.2% yes.
4.30am Scottish time: Independence is clearly going to go down, but the pattern of the result is interesting. Fourteen local government areas have now reported, all but two of them voting “no”, but the three in the greater Glasgow area are all showing a nationalist vote stronger than the notional 6% swing that’s required.
Elsewhere, however, it’s much worse; places like Falkirk, Midlothian and Stirling have racked up large majorities against independence. Even in Dundee, which voted 57.3% for independence, that’s not much advance on the 54.8% that the SNP won there in 2011.
The “no” vote has now improved to 55.5% overall.
4.45am Scottish time: with 17 of 32 local government areas reporting, the ABC now projects a “no” vote of 56.1%. I’ve got a hunch that might come down a bit when Glasgow comes in, but it’s clearly in the right ballpark. Independence is off the agenda for some time to come.
The Spanish government, among others, will be pleased.
6.25am Scottish time: That’s pretty much a wrap. Highland is the only local government area still outstanding; of the other 31, 27 have voted against independence, with the “no” total sitting on 55.4%. The four “yes” areas are Dundee, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.
Glasgow voted for independence by a majority of about 25,000 votes, but Edinburgh voted against by more than 60,000, or 61.1%. SNP chief minister Alex Salmond has conceded defeat.
It remains to be seen just how far the British government will now go in redeeming its pledge to give greater powers to the Scottish parliament.