Scottish referendum

Scotland can start voting from today

The first postal votes for the Scottish referendum have been sent out. During the next few days over 700,000 will be sent in total: a number that represents almost a fifth of Scotland’s electorate. For these voters, the referendum campaign is more or less over. They have until 3 September to make their decision and return their ballot paper. Then they will have to wait, along with the rest of us, a further 16 days before learning the result.

It’s a bit misleading, therefore, to talk as some in the media have done of the referendum campaign “entering its final weeks”. We’ve been in the final stretch of this debate for months, if not years. The stubbornness of the opinion polls suggests that even those who won’t be using a postal vote have long made up their mind whether to vote Yes or No, and little if anything will change it now.

One element of the campaign does have a few more days to run, however. The deadline for registering to vote is 2 September. The Guardian reports there are still around 200,000 unregistered voters. It’s the sort of quantity that could tip the result one way or the other, and both sides ought to be be chasing up these individuals while there’s still time. Registration drives are unusual in this country; in the US they are a vital and often symbolic element in almost every kind of election. It’ll be intriguing to see if they have any significant impact here.

Over 50,000 registration forms were downloaded from the Electoral Commission’s website during a public awareness campaign between 11 and 20 August. Over 2.5 million copies of the commission’s impartial voting guide were sent out during the same period. A massive television, radio, billboard and online advertising campaign runs right up until the registration deadline.

Meanwhile I need to mention something I overlooked when I ran through how the referendum will be counted. And it’s not actually a thing, it’s a person. She is Mary Pitcaithly, the chief counting officer. She will be the person who stands in front of the cameras in Edinburgh on 19 September to announce the final result. She has been the person directing Scotland’s 32 councils over how to stage the referendum. She was the regional counting officer for Scotland in the 2011 AV referendum, and most recently the regional returning officer for Scotland in the 2014 European elections. She is already a familiar face to Scottish viewers. Whatever she announces on 19 September, she will become a face familiar to the world.

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