Scotland votes: Notes from a long night in Edinburgh

Our political editor live blogs the referendum vote

Scottish Referendum Campaigning Enters The Final Stages

(AP photo)

12:40 a.m. BST

[British Summer Time, the time in Scotland — pw]:

Greetings from Edinburgh, where it’s really late and I have no news yet. That will soon start changing. Here’s a chart of the expected return times by “council area” — regions with populations between 50,000 and 600,000 population. Largely rural areas at first, starting in perhaps an hour, followed at the end by returns from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen — which means that if this is close, we’re here all night.

Random thoughts that I wish I’d spun out into longer pieces before tonight:

The 1988 Chilean referendum on Augusto Pinochet’s rule as an influence on insurgent referendum campaigners since then. The Better Together organizers really should have watched the movie No, which dramatizes that Chilean anti-Pinochet campaign, before this all began. The positive, cheerful, cheeky spirit of that campaign — and of the sovereignists in Quebec in 1995 — predicted the attitude of Yes Scotland this year. And its success. 

The irrelevance of Tony Blair. Today I wandered around central Edinburgh and found myself on Fettes Avenue, which is home to the private boarding school Tony Blair attended in the ’60s. He was born here. Nobody cares. The former PM was a far more successful politician than Gordon Brown or, it seems safe to predict, David Cameron, and he has reasonably solid Scot street cred. But he so consummately burned through his credibility, mostly thanks to the Iraq war, that all of Scotland has proven immune to curiosity about what he thought of these goings-on.

The fragility of the Quebec-Scotland analogy. There are parallels, of course. But Quebec isn’t Scotland, and, perhaps more important, “English” Canada isn’t England. As Pauline Marois learned when she went to Scotland in 2012 for an audience with Alex Salmond and got a frosty welcome, the ties that bind Scotland to all of Canada are deep and enduring. If Marois had ever looked around while being driven past McGill University, the thought might have occurred. Canada’s history is full of Mackenzies and Macdonalds and Strachans and MacKays. The founders of the Beaver Club in Montreal were Scots. As Christopher Hitchens once wrote: “Even today a visitor to New Zealand or Canada is bound to notice the influence of Scottish architecture and of the Scottish educational and religious heritage.” In his epic 1952 poem Towards the Last Spike, E.J. Pratt has fun with all the Scots who built the railroad:

Their names were like a battle-muster — Angus

(He of the Shops) and Fleming (of the Transit),

Hector (of the Kicking Horse), Dawson,

‘Cromarty’ Ross, and Beatty (Ulster Scot),

Bruce, Allan, Galt and Douglas, and the ‘twa’ —

Stephen (Craigellachie) and Smith (Strathcona) —

Who would one day climb from their Gaelic hide-outs,

Take off their plaids and wrap them round the mountains.

And then the everlasting tread of the Macs,

Vanguard, centre and rear, their roving eyes

On summits, rivers, contracts, beaver, ledgers;

Their ears cocked to the skirl of Sir John A.,

The general of the patronymic march.

I have been amused this week to discover I’m almost the only anglophone Canadian reporter visiting Scotland who doesn’t have Scottish heritage. But culturally, yeah, Canada has skin in this game.

More news when I have it.

1:34 a.m. BST

'More results soon. Well, soonish.' (AP photo)

‘More results soon. Well, soonish.’ (AP photo)


These first results are from Clackmannanshire, a rural council area west of Gordon Brown’s fief of Fife. The Yes side hoped for better numbers than this:

Total 35,410 votes; 88.6% turnout; Yes 16,350; No 19,036. Rejected 24.

That’s about 54% No, 46% Yes, with results from one council area. More results soon.

2:47 a.m. BST

Well, soonish. I decided to wait after Orkney came in with a 67% No vote before adding anything. Orkney’s not really a typical area in Scotland. Shetland isn’t either — like Orkney, it’s a remote, isolated distinct society — but its 64% No starts to confirm a trend. This week the clever University of Calgary political scientist Paul Fairie concocted a list of results that would be needed in each area to obtain a Scotland-wide average of 50%. Here’s what he came up with. So far all three areas to report numbers are delivering a softer Yes vote than Fairie’s model suggests they need to.

The Scottish independence movement is in trouble. Still a lot of big numbers to come.

3:50 a.m. BST

Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond earlier today. (AP photo)

Look at that time! Pity me!

The mood has changed in just about all the coverage I’m watching. The BBC hasn’t called it, but in just about every area that reports its results, the Yes is coming a little lower than what’s needed if the Yes is to win nationwide. The BBC is reporting that Alex Salmond has left Aberdeen airport in a private jet — that’s nearly meaningless; party leaders often fly from their home districts to national parties on election night — but what’s more telling is the expression he’s wearing in the wire photos that were taken through the window of his car. He’s not in a good mood.

The Yes has its first big win — 57% to 43% — but on lowish turnout, and after all the other disappointing returns for the Yes, it doesn’t seem enough.

On Twitter, I just wrote “It’s over.” I meant the Yes couldn’t recover, and I suspect that was premature. I blame the late hour. But if the Yes is going to pull this out, their lucky streak had better kick in pronto.

5 a.m. BST

Britain Scotland

(AP Photo)

On the list of — well, losers is a harsh word — on the list of tonight’s non-winners, you can add all the people who like to roll their eyes and announce the pollsters got it all wrong. In fact the trend in the last few days’ polls was a slowly growing No majority. At this hour, after the big Glasgow numbers, it’s 54% No to 46% Yes. Within a point of the last polls.

More important — really quite a bit more important — the United Kingdom endures. David Cameron got the scare of his life, but winning with a scare is a lot better than not winning. The No campaign moved fast and hit hard in the last 10 days of the campaign, reversing a trend that imperilled the territorial integrity of one of the world’s most successful countries.

A very large amount of quasi-constitutional squabbling will now ensue, thanks to the No camp’s home-stretch decision to formally propose a devolution of powers as the reward for voting No. It’s a messy victory. And really, the victories of Scottish nationalists over the last 15 years are truly impressive. But for now they’ve stalled. In a move that was risky for them all, every participant in this referendum agreed to treat its result as definitive. Scotland’s definitive choice is Britain.