BBC News

Scottish independence: Guide to Scotland referendum night

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News

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Voters in Scotland will go to the polls in the independence referendum on 18 September. But what will happen, when? And what time is a result expected on 19 September?

When does counting begin?

An overnight count will begin immediately after polls close at 22:00 BST.

Separate counts will take place in 32 local government areas, which will then report their results to the chief counting officer at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, who will verify them and authorise local announcements.

A final declaration of the national result will be made by the chief counting officer in Ingliston, following receipt and verification of all 32 local totals.

Guide to referendum night


registered voters


of electorate

  • 7am polls open

  • 10pm polls close, counting begins

  • 32 counts across Scotland

  • 6:30-7:30am expected declaration


When is the result expected?

Chief counting officer for the referendum Mary Pitcaithly says she will announce the result at "breakfast time" on Friday 19 September. The result is most likely to be between 06:30 BST and 07:30 BST, according to Elections Scotland. That's because the final Scottish declarations in the 2010 UK parliamentary elections and the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections declaration were made at those times respectively.

However, running totals - which are expected to start trickling in from about 01:00 BST and pour in between 03:00 BST and 06:00 BST - may indicate a result earlier in the morning.

Where can all the latest developments be found?

The BBC's Scotland Decides will bring continuous, up-to-date, coverage all through the night, as well as comprehensive analysis. On Twitter, keep abreast of the all the action overnight via @BBCPolitics and @BBCScotlandNews.

A Scotland Decides programme presented by Huw Edwards will be broadcast on BBC One from 22:35 BST, while Scotland Decides The Result will be broadcast on BBC One Scotland.

Or follow the results on BBC Radio 4's Scotland Decides programme presented by James Naughtie and Rachel Burden. BBC Radio Scotland will also provide live coverage from 22:00 BST until 06:00 BST.

You can also watch and listen to all the live television and radio coverage on the BBC News website.

What will the result look like?

In a national referendum, there is only one result - the total number of votes cast in favour of "Yes/No" to the referendum question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" across the whole country.

There will not be a result in Highland or a result in Perth, only totals for those areas. The national result is the aggregate of 32 local totals.

When the final result comes in, that will be it. Even if there is only one vote in it.

What other factors are at play?

Parts of Scotland are remote and sparsely populated, so some areas have to factor in geography and the weather.

Helicopters will be used to fly ballot boxes from islands in Argyll and Bute - where a third of its population live in settlements of fewer than 1,000 people - to the counting centre at Lochgilphead, for example.

Other areas will rely on boats to transport ballot boxes.

But bad weather could delay the receipt of ballot boxes at a count, and as a consequence, delay the overall national result.

Voter turnout is also a consideration. More than 4.2 million people have registered to vote in the independence referendum, making it the largest electorate ever in Scotland.

Counting officers have put measures in place to reduce the risk of queuing at the 5,579 polling stations.

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What about recounts?

Recounts will only be allowed at a local level and only on the basis of concerns about process, not the closeness of a result, according to Elections Scotland.

It is up to local counting officers to decide whether to request a recount - but only after they have given the provisional total to the chief counting officer.

There is no provision in law for a national recount.

Who is voting?

There are an estimated 4,410,288 people over 16 resident in Scotland, according to 2012 figures from the Scottish government.

The 4.2 million registered voters suggests that 97% of the total number of people eligible to vote have registered.

A record number of people have also registered for a postal vote, with the total reaching 789,024.