Decision-day for Britain on Europe

Polls closed an hour and a half ago in the British referendum on EU membership. I’m in Crikey yesterday explaining some of the background; I don’t do much to hide my view that, whatever the EU’s faults, a vote now to leave would be a triumph for some of the darkest forces of reaction in our rather troubling world.

I also give a bit of a rundown on the mechanics of the count:

Those who have followed past British elections will be familiar with the frustration centralised counting; instead of getting progress results in each seat, as in Australia, results come in seat-by-seat only when each seat is declared.

[Today] will be like that but worse, in a couple of ways. Counting will take place in 382 “voting areas”, basically local government areas, with results in each announced when they are completed. But whereas constituencies are all similar in population, local government areas vary widely, so there will be large variations in how long counting takes.

Election results, moreover, are made comprehensible by having a standard of comparison; you can quickly see which parties are gaining or losing ground. But we don’t have that for the referendum (no one thinks the 1975 results would be any guide), so it will be difficult to tell who is really ahead until well into the count.

In the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, which posed the same problem on a smaller scale, it was possible to use the Nationalist vote from the previous election as a reasonable proxy for pro-independence sentiment. There’s nothing so straightforward available this time, but the strength of last year’s vote for the UK Independence Party will give some indication — you can see it from the Guardian’s interactive map.

Reuters has a good guide to when to expect particular results to come in and how to match them against expectations (note its times are all GMT, which is ten hours behind eastern Australia). Basically, the first results will arrive around 10am our time, with the big cities reporting mostly between 1pm and 2pm, and everything expected to wrap up by about 4pm.

In addition to the Reuters piece cited in the last paragraph, there are also good previews by Pawel Swidlicki at OpenEurope and Chris Hanretty at the Guardian. Both use British local time, which is nine hours behind eastern Australia.

The latest polls all point to a victory for remain, albeit fairly narrow. According to the BBC, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has acknowledged that remain will win, based on polling information from “friends in the financial markets”.

Reports also suggest high turnout, despite foul weather in the south of England (what a surprise!), and since “leave” voters are assumed to be more highly motivated, that should be a good sign for “remain”. It may also, of course, mean that counting will take longer than expected.

I’ll give live updates through the day on a fresh post – the first results should appear in about an hour’s time.

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