MORE THAN 18,000 islanders have registered to vote in Thursday’s Scottish independence referendum – the highest tally for any poll in 20 years.
A total of 18,515 people in Shetland are registered for a vote in which, for the first time, 16 and 17 year olds are entitled to take part.
Shetland’s returning officer Jan Riise said that, as well as around 600 in that age group, there were an additional 2-300 voters who “we’d not normally have on the electoral roll at this time”.
Voters throughout the country are being asked to say either Yes or No to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
Just over 3,000 islanders have requested a postal vote, of which more than 60 per cent had already been returned by Friday. That would seem to indicate there will be a much higher turnout than that seen in recent elections.
Riise said that all being well, he expects to be in a position to announce Shetland’s declaration sometime between 1.30am and 2am on Friday morning.
That would place Shetland “among the first batch” of declarations, with larger cities including Edinburgh and Glasgow not expected to complete their counts until 6am or later.
“Usually the big count centres in the cities, where the ballot boxes don’t need to travel so far, would expect to be quite a lot earlier,” Riise said, “but they’re all anticipating a high turnout, which will slow down the performance a wee bit and allow some of the smaller count centres to come ahead.”
Shetland voters can attend one of 35 polling stations, manned by 82 staff, throughout the islands between 7am and 10pm on Thursday.
The ballot boxes will then be transported to Clickimin Leisure Centre, where the overall Shetland count will be conducted.
Boxes from Bressay, Unst, Yell and Whalsay will be transferred by ferry, while the smaller populated islands of Fair Isle, Fetlar, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries are mainly postal voters.
The smallest polling station, in Uyeasound, caters for 101 voters while the largest, Scalloway Public Hall, will handle 889 voters.
Anyone with a postal vote who has not mailed it in by the end of Monday is advised instead to take it along to a polling station on Thursday to ensure it is counted.
Riise said: “We have a total electorate in Shetland of 18,515, which is the largest electorate that has registered any time in the last 20 years for an election, and that is an expression, I think, of the interest that there has been in this referendum.
“Since the postal votes went out about two weeks ago, we’ve had well in excess of 2,000 returned already. What that indicates is a likely high turnout – I wouldn’t like to predict how many – but I would want to encourage folk who have the vote to use it, for this very important election.”
He added: “To help us on count night we’d be very keen for everybody to follow the proper voting instruction, which is to use an X in the box that suits their answer to the question. Any other mark just makes it more problematic.”