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Scots vote in record numbers, await independence verdict

EDINBURGH: Scots agonized over the fate of their country on Friday after record numbers voted in a divisive independence referendum that could break apart the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s verdict on the union should be clear around breakfast time on Friday, but a YouGov poll of 1,828 voters the organization had previously polled indicated 54 percent of Scots would back the union while 46 percent would seek independence.

First partial results showed unionists won the Clackmannanshire region, which represents just under one percent of the electorate, with 54 percent against 46 percent of the vote.

“It looks like the union will remain intact for the time being,” YouGov research manager Laurence Janta-Lipinski told Reuters of the survey carried out on Thursday which was not an exit poll.

Sterling rose to a 2-week high against the U.S. dollar in response. Banks in London manned trading desks through the night to track the result.

YouGov said it had picked up a “small but significant late swing” toward supporters of the 307-year union between Scotland and England on polling day, though it cautioned the survey was merely a snapshot.

The campaign for independence has galvanized this country of 5.3 million but also divided the passions of friends and families from the remote Scottish islands of the Atlantic to the tough city estates of Glasgow.

Breaking apart the United Kingdom has worried allies, investors and the entire British elite whose leaders rushed late in the campaign to check what opinion polls showed was a surge in support for independence.

Seeking to tap into a cocktail of historical rivalry, opposing political tastes and a perception that London has mismanaged Scotland, nationalists say Scots, not London, should rule Scotland to build a wealthier and fairer country.

Unionists say independence would usher in financial, economic and political uncertainty and diminish the UK’s standing in the world. They have warned that Scotland would not keep the pound as part of a formal currency union.

Beyond the money and power, the referendum has provoked deep passions in Scotland, drawn in many voters who ignore traditional political campaigns and underscored what London politicians admit is a need for wider constitutional change.

Voters lined up at polling stations across Scotland to vote with 4.28 million voters, or 97 percent of the electorate, registered to vote.

SCOTLAND’S FATE

They were asked to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

Electoral officials said the result will be announced around sunrise on Friday when all regional votes have been submitted. But partial results will give a strong indication after the count of cities such as Glasgow are declared around 0400 GMT.

Indications were that a record number of Scots, above 80 percent, had cast a vote.

“There might be some issues with the weather but I’m still saying about breakfast time,” Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly told Reuters.

With more than 486,000 voters, Scotland’s largest city of Glasgow is crucial and is due to report around 0400 GMT. Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which with Glasgow make up nearly a quarter of the electorate, are also expected around that time.

Other key regions to watch are North and South Lanarkshire and Aberdeenshire, where Alex Salmond, the 59-year-old nationalist leader, cast his vote on Thursday.

Uniting to counter what was viewed as the biggest internal threat to the United Kingdom since Ireland broke away nearly a century ago, the British elite sought to convince Scots to back the union by promising more powers.

British leaders accept that even if Scotland votes to keep the union, the United Kingdom’s structure will have to change, as granting further powers to Scotland has provoked calls for a less centralized state from lawmakers in England.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s job could be on the line if Scotland breaks away, but the 47-year-old prime minister has been largely absent from the campaign, leaving former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to lead the unionist battle cry.

Queen Elizabeth, who faces a possible division in her kingdom not seen since the days of her namesake Elizabeth I at the start of the 17th century, was at Balmoral, a granite palace in Scotland where she spends her summers.

Elizabeth, who under her constitutional role must stay politically neutral, told a well-wisher last Sunday that she hoped Scots would consider their choice carefully.

If Scots vote for independence, 18 months of negotiations would follow on how to carve up everything from North Sea oil and European Union membership to Britain’s main nuclear submarine base, which is based on the Clyde.

The prospect of breaking up the world’s sixth-largest economy and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has stoked concern in the United States and Europe.

The United States has made clear it wants the United Kingdom, it main ally in Europe, to remain together  -Reuters

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