TODAY Shetland and the rest of Scotland decides on the nation’s future. Voting began at 7am and continues until 10pm when the counting will commence. Shetland News will bring you live updates as the evening progresses towards the final count, which is expected between 1.30am and 2am.
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11.15am – Independent highlands and islands list MSP Jean Urquhart says that despite the outcome of the referendum, Britain has changed.
As a result of the No vote, the pressure is on Westminster to deliver change or else Scotland will be back voting on independence in the next few years, she said.
Urquhart is full of praise for the campaign and how it has woken up so many people, especially the young, to the world of politics, as demonstrated by the enormous turnout at the election.
She added that the referendum had been a “win, win situation” for the Yes campaign, as it was the next step on the road towards independence.
“The more people engaged with the arguments, the more they read online the more they swung towards Yes.
“And given the battering Yes received from the press and the media generally, who were very negative towards independence for Scotland, I think we can hold our heads up high about the number of folk who have become politicised with a small ‘p’ – that has to be a good thing.”
She said Britain could move towards becoming a more federal state, with the four nations looking for different settlements.
However she warned that the “old language” of Westminster deciding what powers they were willing to offer up had to change, as in Scotland people were now talking about the powers they wanted.
“That language is not conducive to the energy and political awareness that’s been delivered through this campaign.”
She also warned of the prospect of UKIP’s Nigel Farage and London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson taking centre stage in Westminster “doesn’t excite people in Scotland too much”.
She said: “The behaviour of Westminster will have to change and if it’s not capable of change I think people won’t settle for the status quo in Scotland. I think it is inevitable we will be back here again.”
3.20am – Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael says he is “absolutely delighted” with the result in Shetland, which was “broadly what I was expecting”.
“It’s an emphatic victory for the Better Together campaign, and it is a good reflection of the hard work that has been put in by local activists of all parties and none,” he told Shetland News.
Based on the initial figures elsewhere, he said that while it was “early days yet, it’s gratifying to see that all the island groups have voted no, but these are small populations and we still need to get the results of the big cities, which will ultimately settle it, I guess. But at the moment the indications are that people, when faced with the proposition of independence, have said, politely but confidently, no thank you.”
The Liberal Democrat MP has long been a supporter of a federal UK, and he says that is the logical conclusion following the referendum.
“The opportunity now is that we finish the job of devolution, and in doing that we unlock the door to constitutional reform across the whole of the United Kingdom, most specifically a federal structure for England.”
He said the transfer of further powers to Scotland “needs to be a cross-party effort, and an effort that brings in people that are not of any party”.
Carmichael said he hoped the SNP “will play a role in that this time, that they will not stand aside and let the rest of us do the work”.
In relation to the Our Islands Our Future campaign for further powers for Scotland’s islands, he said that assuming there is an overall No vote, further announcements would follow in the coming days.
He added: “I’m delighted Shetland has voted in the way I encouraged it to do. It’s an emphatic vote that makes it clear that people in the Northern Isles want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
“This is a positive vote for change – Shetland has a long, proud tradition of voting for change.”
2.41am – The Shetland result is 5,669 for Yes and 9,951 for No. That’s 36.3% Yes, 63.7% No. 15 rejected ballot papers. Fair to say the resounding victory for Better Together won’t come as a great surprise to either side.
2.28am – The declaration is imminent, Counting officer Jan Riise has called in the counting agents to tell them the Shetland result.
2.03am – Neighbouring Orkney has voted 67% No to 33% Yes, a wider margin than the 54-46 margin in the only other local authority area to declare so far, Clackmannanshire. Shetland’s declaration is expected very soon.
1.22am – Counting officer Jan Riise has just declared that the total number of votes in Shetland is 15,635, which means a turnout of 84.4 per cent in Shetland.
It’s a remarkable figure when you consider turnout for the last council elections in 2012 was only 55.2 per cent, while in this May’s European elections it slipped just below 30 per cent.
00.55am – Word at the Clickimin now is that Shetland has voted No, the question is by how much. Still at least half an hour before the final result.
00.50am – Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson believes the best outcome for Shetland would be a Yes vote or a close No.
He said a convincing majority for No would lead to Conservative backbenchers reducing Scotland’s income under the Barnett formula.
A close No would see further devolution for Scotland, which would create an opportunity for Shetland and the Scottish islands to argue for powers to be devolved beyond Holyrood.
However a Yes vote would lead to a constitution for Scotland, in which the islands would seek to have a central input to argue for more powers to be devolved to local councils.
Robinson wants to see councils have control of 50 per cent of their income, so they have more options when it comes to spending. Rather than having to cut one department to spend more in another, they could look at raising income if Shetland wanted more schools for example.
Twenty years ago the SIC raised millions in business rates from the likes of Sullom Voe, now it raised less than £800,000.
He is not convinced there is an appetite in the isles to look at turning Shetland into a crown dependency, as the Liberal Democrats are suggesting.
He also said it would be a tough legal fight to claim control of the seabed and thus the oil around the islands.
Whatever the outcome tonight, Robinson will be back at work tomorrow with the other island council leaders making sure the UK or Scottish governments, whichever is the winner, stick to the pledges made to the Our Islands Our Future campaign.
If it’s a Yes they will be looking for a better deal on the seabed, wanting not just the income but also control of all developments.
00.36am – Still waiting for turnout figure for Shetland, but some of the numbers nationwide – for a country which has been politically apathetic for so long – are staggering. Orkney’s turnout is 84.7%. Renfrewshire’s is 87% and Clackmannanshire’s just shy of 89%.
00.10am – With 16 and 17 year olds allowed to vote for the first time, young people are aware of the important role they play in this referendum. Teenagers from both Shetland’s high schools are at the Clickimin counting centre following proceedings.
They described the last few weeks as defining for them as young adults, saying discussions among friends and family have been intense – often heated – but always helpful. Social media has been a vital tool in getting access to information.
Jack Murphy from Brae High School said the referendum had introduced a lot of young people to politics, while Rachael Juel-Beer from the Anderson High School described the last few weeks as a “life changing experience.”
11.55pm – The last of the ballot boxes (from Yell and Unst) have just arrived, half an hour ahead of schedule. Looks as though a final announcemenrt for Shetland could be as early as 1am.
11.35pm – Shetland MSP Tavish Scott tonight tells us he is confident there will be a No vote in Shetland, but won’t say by how much or how the country as a whole will vote.
However he has said that whatever the result Shetland and Orkney should consider what they can get out of the constitutional upheaval that lies ahead and seriously consider what it wants out of this debate.
Even if there is a national No vote, he said the UK government will have no choice but to devolve more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
This, he says, could provide a window of opportunity for the northern isles to look at different political structures, such as the Isle of Man’s crown dependency status.
Scott praised the referendum campaign and both sides for their huge levels of engagement. He said the national media had been fair and the BBC had come under “disgraceful attack” from the Yes campaign for being unbalanced, in a way that was more akin to less democratic countries.
He congratulated the Yes campaign for winning the social media argument, and wondered whether that indicated what the final outcome would be.
He also admitted that the No campaign had been “complacent” and that it had waited far too long to offer new powers for the Scottish Parliament.
But he remains confident of a No vote nationally, saying that Gordon Brown’s intervention over the past two weeks had made all the difference, especially last night’s speech which got to the heart of the arghument between nationalism and the UK.
He also said that if the opinion polls, which still forecast a win for the No campaign, are hugely out of kilter with the final result then there is a big question about their value.
“It calls into question why we spend vast amounts of money on polls and whether it would be in everyone’s interest to ban them for two weeks prior to an election. What difference do they make?”
10.59pm – There’s been some murmuring about the constitutional implications if Shetland votes No and the rest of the country votes Yes. Yesterday Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael suggested in The Guardian that the islands would want to have a “conversation about Shetland’s position and the options that might be open to it”.
That prompted a spoof article on satirical website The Daily Mash suggesting Unst would declare its own independence. It suggested companies including Unst Cycle Hire, the Valhalla Brewery and Foord’s Chocolates would be nationalised!
10.35pm – The first ballot boxes have been opened and are now being counted. The first box in was Lerwick North closely followed by Lerwick South. It’s going to be a long and slow night.
There are five counting tables each with four people doing the counting. They are being observed by a crowd of around 30 official onlookers from various interested organisations, including Yes Scotland and Better Together.
10.20pm – Counting officer Jan Riise is currently opening the proceedings. The first two ballot boxes have arrived. The last postal ballot was handed in at 9.55pm – talk about last minute.
“We have never had a record turn out like this,” Riise said. The final verification of the results will take place around 1am, and will be sent to Edinburgh for confirmation before a turnout figure is announced with a final result coming in around 1.30am.
10.00pm – Polling stations in Shetland, and across Scotland, are now closed. Boxes from the Gilbertson Park station in Lerwick are expected to be the first to arrive at Clickimin where counting staff are ready and waiting. Shetland is expected to be one of the earliest of Scotland’s 32 local authorities to declare its count at roughly 2am.
Nationally, opinion polls seem to show the referendum is too close to call, with the No campaign enjoying a small lead over Yes. The nation’s bookmakers, however, seem very certain that it’s the No camp that will be celebrating in a few hours – bet365, for example, has a No victory at 1-6 and Yes at 4-1.
5.45pm – Shetland counting officer Jan Riise has said that around 50 per cent of Shetland’s electorate has already cast its vote, almost twice as many as the final turnout in the European elections in May.
Turnout at the 28 polling stations varies from 32 per cent in Unst South, 46 per cent in Lerwick and 57 per cent in Bressay, while 92 per cent of postal votes have been returned.
Riise said: “The turnout for this referendum is high and there is clearly a good level of attendance at polling stations in Shetland.
I’d expect the final turnout figure to reach perhaps 80 per cent by the close of polling stations at 10pm this evening.
The European elections saw a turnout of 29.6 per cent, while for the 2012 council elections it was 55.2 per cent.