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Scots are voting to decide whether their country should remain part of the UK or end the 307-year-old union and begin life as an independent nation.
A total of 4.29m, or 97 per cent of the electorate, have registered to vote, the largest electorate Scotland has ever seen. The result of Thursday’s historic referendum is expected early on Friday, with the opinion polls in the past two days suggesting it is going to be extremely close.
Sterling rallied, rising 0.7 per cent to reach a two-week high of $1.6391 against the dollar, in response to the final polls suggesting that the pro-union campaign would hold on to its narrow lead. Last week, it hit a low of $1.6051 against the greenback, but it has trimmed those losses in the last week and one-month volatility in options markets has also eased.
“While the polls remain a statistical dead heat, the wisdom of crowds implies giving more weight to the bookmakers and the markets, which clearly favour a ‘no’ victory,” said Marc Chandler, head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.
However, investors were still scrambling to protect themselves against sharp swings in sterling over the next 24 hours. Overnight sterling dollar volatility spiked to almost 35 per cent, 10 times its level a month ago and up from 12.75 per cent on Wednesday.
Earlier, campaigners in the leafy west end of Glasgow reported that queues formed outside polling stations before they opened at 7am. Greeting voters outside Hyndland Secondary School, Peter Taylor, a 64-year-old Glasgow Labour party member, said: “I’ve stood outside this school several times for elections before. I would say this is getting on for 50 per cent greater [number of people].”
Several voters were still undecided when they showed up to the polling station and asked campaigners to persuade them either way.
Independence activist Johnny Hunter, a retired environmental health officer, said: “I’m the last face people see of the Yes campaign – I need to make sure it’s a happy face to match the positive message of the campaign.”
Hilda Marshall, a retired pro-independence voter, said: “I felt as though the Hallelujah chorus should have erupted when I put the cross down.”
Speaking on his way to vote “No” in Ruchill, north Glasgow, Kenneth Gould, 63, said: “I’m going to march right in there and will tick the box with confidence, without hesitation.” He joked he would wave his ballot in the air and cry “look how I’m voting folks”.
But he added of the possible result: “I’m nervous. Once you make that decision, that’s it.”
Ipsos MORI’s final poll of the campaign, published on Thursday, shows the No campaign with a very narrow lead, in line with other polls in recent days.
Based on responses from 991 people questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday, 50 per cent of those certain to vote said they would vote No, with 45 per cent saying they would vote Yes and 4 per cent still undecided. Excluding those undecided, 53 per cent said they planned to vote No, with 47 per cent to vote Yes. The day is forecast to remain dry across most of Scotland, although light drizzle was expected in some areas.
Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, said: “I’m feeling very confident. It’s been a long, hard two-and-a-half year campaign, passions have been aroused on both sides, and understandably so because we are talking about the biggest single decision that any of us will ever take in our lifetime.
“But I’m increasingly confident that we will win tonight.”
In his final speech on Wednesday night, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, urged the public to defy the might of the “London establishment” and vote to leave the UK.
“This is our opportunity of a lifetime and we must seize it with both hands,” he said.
His speech followed an impassioned plea by Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, earlier on Wednesday to reject independence.
In an apparent boost to the Yes campaign, Andy Murray, the Scottish-born tennis player, seemed to endorse the independence campaign when he took to Twitter in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!”, he wrote. Murray is not resident in Scotland so does not have a vote.
Some voters were underwhelmed by the atmosphere at the polling stations. First-time voter Jonathan Gibson, who is about to head to Oxford university to read history, said after voting in Jordanhill that the experience had been “a bit of an anticlimax”.
The student, who is also celebrating his 18th birthday today, said: “I expected more people outside. It should have felt like a bigger thing.”
His friend Adam Macnaughton, preparing to study natural sciences at Cambridge, said a lot of his Yes-voting peer group had failed to take the vote seriously. “Some people are thinking ‘screw it, it’s a bit of a laugh’.”
He was planning to vote No in Bearsden later in the afternoon. He was looking forward to no longer being inundated with referendum messages on social media. “It can get quite confrontational,” he said.
In anticipation of a close result, the head of the Church of Scotland called on both sides to join forces and restore harmony, amid fears the country will be left a divided nation.
“Get ready to accept the will of the Scottish people and that will be best done by setting passions aside,” said the Rt Rev John Chalmers. “If we do that we’ll be ready for the next step in the process, which will be to harness the energy of both sides. Whatever the outcome we will need to be ready to work together.”
Scotland has set up 5,579 polling stations, which means typically there should be no more than 800 voters allocated to each, in an effort to avoid large queues. The polls opened at 7am and will close at 10pm, with anybody queueing at that time still eligible to cast their vote.
Meanwhile, a group of economists from across Britain’s universities has written to the Financial Times warning Scotland that independence would be a “gamble with very poor odds”.
Below is a collection of tweets, photos and video showing the reactions of voters, politicians, celebrities, and Scottish independence supporters from overseas. (Drag your cursor across each picture to read the tweet.)