Scottish referendum

Referendum result night: what to expect and when

We’re almost there. On Thursday morning at 7am, 5,579 booths in 2,608 polling stations will open across Scotland for people to vote on whether their country should become independent. Just under 4.3m people are eligible to take part, of whom nearly a fifth applied for a postal vote.

Here’s my final guide to what will happen once the polls close at 10pm on Thursday night. I’ve used a number of sources, including the Electoral Commission, the Press Association and Tim Johns, who has written an excellent preview. I’ve covered some of this before, but this is an attempt at tying everything together.


Polls close across Scotland.

Counting of postal votes will begin immediately at 32 regional centres. Votes cast on the day itself will be transported to the counts as quickly as possible. In some cases, helicopters have been laid on to pick up votes from remote islands and communities.

Here’s a reminder of the 32 areas into which Scotland has been divided for the purpose of the count, together with their respective electorates in ascending order of size:

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


The first results won’t emerge until a few hours after polls have closed.

Each of the 32 regional counts must first report their results to the central count in Edinburgh, before receiving the go-ahead to declare them locally.

The central count will keep a running tally of all the votes and declare the final referendum result when all 32 counts have reported.

Among the first to declare should be North Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, East Lothian, Perth & Kinross and Moray.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles) and Orkney are also tipped to declare soon after 2am, though this obviously depends on the swiftness of collating the results from some of Scotland’s most remote areas.


This is when the majority of results will start to be announced.

From 3am we should hear from Clackmannanshire, West Dunbartonshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Angus, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire, Dundee, Falkirk, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire and Stirling.

Around 4am we should get the results from Midlothian, Argyll & Bute, West Lothian, South Ayrshire, Shetland, East Dunbartonshire, Fife, Highland and North Ayrshire. 

If there is a uniform pattern to how Scotland has voted, the trend ought to be evident by now.

Results may be held up by a recount, which can only take place before a regional counting centre reports its totals to the central count. At each of the counts, the Yes and No campaigns can request one recount. Given the closeness of some of the opinion polls, I should rethink recounts are almost inevitable – especially as once a result is declared, any challenges will have to be made through the courts.


The remaining big hitters – Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow – are due report around this time. The 32nd and final result could come from Scottish Borders, which should also arrive about now.

All these timings are approximate. Don’t bank on the larger areas keeping pace with the more urban, metropolitan counts. Any delays thank to weather or poor transportation could hold up the announcement of the final result, which should be around…


This is probably the earliest to expect chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly to declare the outcome of the referendum at the central count in Edinburgh.

However, as Tim Johns points out, she can announce who has won before the final totals are known, as soon as it is mathematically impossible for the winning side to be overtaken.

Recounts, the climate, geography, unforeseen events, technical malfunctions – all could slow things down and mean we’re waiting until later on Friday morning to get a clear picture of what has happened.

The main thing to remember, however, is that this is intended to be a brisk process and both the organisers and broadcasters have made their plans accordingly.

If you want to catch the crucial action on the night, I’d suggest going to bed early on Thursday evening and waking up around 3am. You’ll then get to see the bulk of the results, the build-up to the final declaration, and, somewhere around breakfast time, a potential moment of history.


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