Piper, Ryan Randall, leads a march to the polling station in Craigmillar, Edinburgh.
Piping hot: Ryan Randall leads a Yes procession to an Edinburgh polling station

After a tense and often fractious final few days of the referendum campaign, police and local councils had prepared for intimidation and even violence at polling stations. But the mood was of celebration as voters turned out in their millions for Scotland’s historic ballot.

Few arrests were made and both the Yes and No campaigns were saying their supporters were being allowed to go largely unimpeded to the booths.

In Craigmillar, southeast Edinburgh, a piper shooting flames from the top of his bagpipes led a procession of about 150 Yes voters to the local polling station. The activists made speeches and chanted Yes, with one woman predicting the pro-independents would “cuff” their opponents.

There were complaints from pro-unionists elsewhere. Gemma Doyle, the Labour MP, tweeted a picture of graffiti warning “Vote Yes or else”, calling it “horrible intimidation”.

Sheila Gilmore, the Labour MP for Edinburgh West, said: “It is difficult to be a No voter around here. I have seen people getting harassed for wearing No stickers.”

But No campaigners said their supporters were mainly ignoring the noisy Yes activists. Ms Gilmore said: “I am confident that our voters are turning out.”

Better Together campaigners said turnout had been high in their strongholds. One campaign strategist said: “I’m very confident; we are getting good numbers in our areas.”

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, also struck a cautiously optimistic note. Casting his vote in his home village of Strichen, he said: “We are in the hands of the people of Scotland and there is no safer place to be than in the hands of the Scottish people.”

The Yes piper himself, Ryan Randall, did not have a vote, but had travelled from Las Vegas to help the Scottish independence movement. He said: “What England has done to the Scots in the past has been awful – really fascist.”

He was not the only foreigner to pay a visit to observe the day’s historic events.

Hundreds of journalists from foreign news organisations travelled to Scotland for the event, and flags flew from cars across Edinburgh in support of Catalan independence.

Camera crews from Hungary, Japan and the US filmed voters heading into Notre Dame primary school in a quiet corner of Glasgow’s west end, while every hotel room in the capital was booked out.

English people also travelled north to help both sides. Matthew Houlihan, a Londoner, said: “I am here to support the Yes campaign. This is a window of opportunity for the Scottish community to say no to neoliberalism. If they vote Yes, I will move up and join them.”

Many of those voting were doing so for the first time. Andrew Tierney, from Edinburgh, said: “I have never voted for a government in the past, I don’t see the point. But this is about getting my country back.”

Yes campaigners were heavily relying on this kind of first-time voter, saying they had been missed by the pollsters.

In an effort to make sure these people voted, vans bearing Yes stickers fanned out across Scotland to transport campaigners and ferry people back and forth to the polling stations.

No campaigners also turned out in their hundreds of thousands, but often more quietly. Adam Macnaughton, preparing to study natural sciences at Cambridge, was preparing to vote No, and said he was looking forward to no longer being inundated with referendum messages on social media. “It can get quite confrontational,” he said.

Campaigners on both sides said the country had changed for good whatever the result. Henry McLeish, the Labour former first minister, said: “It has been amazing recently to travel on buses and trains and have politics being the talk of the nation. This has been a remarkable two and a half years and a spectacular re-energising of our politics and our democracy in Scotland.”

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