Scottish referendum

On results night, which parts of Scotland might declare first?

The largest ever electorate for a ballot in Scotland will take part in Thursday’s referendum.

The Electoral Commission has said that just under 4.3m people are registered to vote – around 97% of the adult population.

The 4,285,323 voters include 789,024 people who have applied for a postal vote, which represents the largest volume of registration for postal ballots in Scottish history.

The commission has also revealed that:

118,640 voters have registered since 1 August, along with 789,024 postal voters
164,829 voters have been added to the register since 1 March
5,579 polling stations will be open on Thursday for people to vote in the referendum

It’s statistics like these that give a palpable sense of just how big an event the referendum will be, both in terms of participation and organisation.

The commission has released figures that break down the total electorate into the 32 counting areas.

I’ve ordered the figures by size, starting with the smallest:

1. Orkney: 17,515
2. Shetland: 18,514
3. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar: 22,908
4. Clackmannanshire: 39,970
5. Inverclyde: 62,482
6. Stirling: 69,029
7. Midlothian: 69,613
8. West Dunbartonshire: 71,109
9. Argyll & Bute: 72,002
10. East Renfrewshire: 72,994
11. Moray: 75,170
12. East Lothian: 81,931
13. East Dunbartonshire: 86,836
14. Angus: 93,551
15. South Ayrshire: 94,888
16. Scottish Borders: 95,533
17. East Ayrshire: 99,662
18. North Ayrshire: 113,924
19. Dundee: 118,721
20. Perth & Kinross: 120,015
21. Falkirk: 122,453
22. Dumfries & Galloway: 124,956
23. Renfrewshire: 134,737
24. West Lothian: 138,212
25. Aberdeen: 175,740
26. Highland: 190,782
27. Aberdeenshire: 206,487
28. South Lanarkshire: 261,152
29. North Lanarkshire: 268,697
30. Fife: 302,108
31. Edinburgh: 377,413
32. Glasgow: 486,219

It’s tempting to use this list to make a few guesses about which parts of Scotland will be first to report on the night.

I’d imagine we’ll hear from places like Stirling and Midlothian within a few hours of polls closing at 10pm; Dundee and Falkirk will probably declare around 2am or 3am; while the result from Edinburgh and Glasgow might not be known until sunrise.

Even though Orkney and Shetland have the two smallest electorates, it doesn’t follow they will be the first to declare. Geography, transport links and the weather are three factors that may slow down the collation of results in some of Scotland’s more remote areas.

But it sounds like everything will be done to get a final result by Friday morning. For instance, helicopters will be used to fly ballot boxes from islands in Argyll and Bute to the counting centre at Lochgilphead.

This region of Scotland includes 26 inhabited islands, and a third of its population live in settlements of fewer than 1,000 people.

Because many landing sites cannot be used at night due to poor visibility, the council has enlisted the help of the police and coastguard to install temporary lighting – an action which it is said could speed up the counting process by up to seven hours.

Remember that the results from each of the 32 regions will be announced at the central count in Edinburgh, not at their respective local counts.

There is only one result: the sum of all 32 local totals. The regional centres can hold a recount prior to reporting in their total, but once it is announced, any challenges will have to be made through the courts.

Postal votes will be counted at the same time as those cast on the day of the referendum, and not before. Ignore any rumours you see in the news or on social media about postal votes showing a surge for either Yes or No. These stories are all bogus.

The order of declarations will shape the narrative of the night. If we hear from half a dozen places that all incline towards the same result, this will inevitably buoy the hopes of one side of the campaign, even though the final outcome may be entirely different.

The size of the electorate in Scotland’s big urban centres, however, may mean the overall trend is clear before the votes from the remotest areas come in.

Finally, remember Scotland is not a homogenous block of opinion. Different parts of the country will vote in different ways – and quite dramatically so. I don’t anticipate a similar pattern as that seen in the AV referendum in 2011, when almost every part of the UK returned a majority for No. We might well seen parts of the Central Lowlands voting heavily for Yes, while the Borders vote substantially for No. The most recent opinion poll from Survation has been mapped by @election_data to show some of those potential regional variations.

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