SCOTS headed to the polls on Thursday under largely grey skies
for what could be the most significant vote in these islands for
The last week of polls showed a narrow lead for the
anti-independence campaign, but, with a significant number of
undecided voters and a very large turnout expected, the Yes
campaigners remained hopeful of upsetting the odds.
Twelve hours before polling stations opened across Scotland, a
group of about 50 Christians had gathered outside the Scottish
Parliament in Edinburgh to pray and sing. Falling to their knees,
the group recited verses from the Bible: "If my people, who are
called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and
I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Bended knee: Christians outside the Scottish Parliament, on
Credit: TIM WYATT
Bended knee: Christians outside the Scottish Parliament, on
"As we worship, build your throne," they sang, some with arms
raised, as bemused tourists and foreign journalists looked on. A
24-year-old IT worker, David Roy, said he had come because it was
important to trust God for this "pretty significant decision". He
had decided to vote No. "[There are] definitely practical and
logical [reasons], which I don't think is incompatible in faith,
but for me it was all encased in prayer and working out what I
think God wants for this nation."
Mary Wilson said that the gathering was "a group of Christians
that are probably divided, but that's not important at the end of
the day: it's keeping our country together".
In contrast, Old St Paul's Episcopal Church, just a 15-minute
walk from the parliament, was empty when I visited around
mid-morning, despite being open all day for "prayer and reflection"
on the referendum.
One polling station among the 5579 opening at 7 a.m. was in the
parish hall of St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in central
Edinburgh. The church's priest said that he had been careful not
take sides, but was encouraging everyone to take part and vote.
Outside this polling station, competing groups of Yes and No
activists milled around, handing out stickers and chanting slogans.
Hugo Stack, 14, was urging voters to choose independence. He said:
"I think it's quite clear from the campaigns that Scotland would be
richer without England. It's been an unfair Union: we are
Some Yes campaigners have been accused of intimidating those who
disagree with them, No supporters being shouted down or even
attacked with eggs at rallies. Hugo, however, rejected the claim
that pro-independence activists were especially divisive. "It's
50/50. Half of Scotland is Yes and half of Scotland is No. You
don't need to stereotype either side," he said.
For the first time in British electoral history, 16- and
17-year-olds can vote in this referendum. Hugo said that this had
pushed more of his peers to engage with the debates, and argued
that teenagers were "old enough to see which side they want", even
if there was more peer pressure at his age.
Iain Morse, a freelance journalist, was campaigning for the No
campaign, swathed in a Union-flag scarf. He said that the Yes
campaign revolved around identity politics and splitting the
English and Scottish into two. "I'm British. My mother was
Scottish, and my father was English; so I don't accept the
bipolarity," he said. "You can be British Catholic, Protestant,
Jewish, Muslim, Pakistani, Irish, anything you want. For me, it's
an identity that's important to be." He also said that he had large
doubts about the economic viability of an independent Scotland.
As Mr Morse spoke to me, a small group of Yes supporters
approached, offering commiserations in mock English accents for the
"bad day" he would have tomorrow, as they expected a Yes
Among them was the novelist Irvine Welsh, a prominent
independence supporter who now lives in the United States. When
challenged by Mr Morse why he backed independence when he did not
live in Scotland, Mr Welsh replied that he wanted the "best for my
family and friends".
The Yes activists continued to engage a visibly irritated Mr
Morse in debate, and one attempted to grab his scarf, which
prompted an angry response. After the group had wandered off, he
said the incident was typical of the bad-natured campaign over the
past year. "At every No campaign [event] we have been harassed by
the SNP [Scottish National Party]," he said. "We won't re-unite
[after the result]. The divisions will still be there."
Away from the squabbling activists, a steady trickle of voters
entered the parish hall to cast their ballot, answering the simple
question "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
One Yes voter, Esme McLeod, 36, a paralegal, said that the big
issue for her was the "democratic deficit". She said: "Some of the
things that are enacted across the UK don't apply [to Scotland],
like the bedroom tax. I'm also burnt to the core by
"We need to have a bit more faith in ourselves; it is not about
nationalism, but caring about where we live. The grass-roots nature
of the campaign fills my heart with joy. This has not been an
aggressive or angry but a reasonable and civilised debate."
But Anna Brocklehurst, leaving the polling station with her
husband and two small children, said that the UK was one country
and "needed to stay together".
"I voted No. For me, it was because I think Scotland does need
to change, and I think we could have more powers, and Westminster
isn't necessarily relevant to us; but I don't think independence is
the way to achieve that."
Similar doubts were expressed by clergy at the heart of the some
of the issues that have dominated the referendum campaign.
The Revd George Bradburn is a priest at the Roman Catholic St
Gildas' parish in Rosneath, a few miles from the Trident nuclear
submarine base at Faslane, which, the SNP has said, would be
ejected from an independent Scotland. He said on Wednesday that
most of the residents in his parish were opposed to independence.
Many of them were English, and had settled after serving in the
"That said, the local residents are divided. The Yes campaign
has been much more lively with the meetings they have conducted. .
. The No campaign has been less prominent, but tends to come from a
more subdued type of member of the community, but no less
He said that his church had not promoted one side or another,
merely the importance of voting. "As a church person, I would love
to see an end to nuclear weapons, [but] few, I think, will decide
the way they vote on this one issue, mainly because the weapons
will remain in Britain, while the jobs, which are the lifeblood of
this area, will sail away down south."
In the English border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Vicar of
Berwick, the Revd Dennis Handley, said that his congregation also
had concerns about the practicalities of independence. "People live
in Berwick and work in Scotland, or the other way around. Or they
are farmers who have land on both sides. Where is it going to put
them?" he asked on Monday. He said that some of his parishioners
felt Scottish, some felt English, and some felt neither.
"If Scotland goes independent, being a border town that is so
close, why should Scotland have the benefits when we don't? It's a
The polls remained open until 10 p.m., before the count begins
immediately. The first results are expected early on Friday
morning. A final result is likely to be revealed between 6 and 9