Results show Scots set to reject independence

Jill Lawless
Associated Press

Edinburgh, Scotland

— With most votes counted in Scotland's historic independence referendum, results show those in favor of keeping the 307-year union with England are on the edge of victory.

With 29 of 32 regional electoral centers reporting, the No side had about 54 percent of the vote to about 46 percent for the Yes side. Those against independence received a massive boost by strongly taking Edinburgh, the capital, and Aberdeen, the nation's oil center.

The average turnout was 86 percent — a record high for any Scottish election.

The Yes camp appeared resigned to defeat. Saying she was "personally bitterly disappointed" with the results, Deputy Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC that Scottish nationalists "need to pick ourselves up and move on."

The fate of the United Kingdom was at stake Thursday as Scotland voted in a referendum on whether to become an independent state, deciding whether to unravel a marriage that helped build an empire but has increasingly been felt by many Scots as stifling and one-sided.

The question on the ballot paper is simplicity itself: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" Yet it has divided Scots during months of campaigning — and in 15 hours on Thursday they decide on the fate of a 307-year old union with England.

More than 2,600 polling places opened Thursday at 7 a.m. More than 4.2 million people registered to vote — 97 percent of those eligible.

First Minister Alex Salmond cast his vote near his home in northeastern Scotland. If the Yes side prevails he will realize a long-held dream of leading his country to independence after an alliance with England formed in 1707.

Anti-independence leaders including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown have implored Scots not to break their links with the rest of the United Kingdom.

On a foggy morning in Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, a heavy stream of voters began arriving at a polling station in the city center the moment it opened.

One of the first, Anne Seaton, said she had voted Yes — "because why not?"

"Scotland got under the English Parliament by mischance," in 1707, she said. "It's time now for Scotland to make a deliberate decision for independence."

Voters expressed a mixture of excitement and apprehension about Scotland's choice.

Thomas Roberts said he had voted Yes because he felt optimistic about its future as an independent country.

"Why not roll the dice for once?" he said.

Once the polls close, ballot boxes will be transported to 32 regional centers for counting of the votes. The result is anticipated Friday morning.

Roberts said he was looking forward to watching the results in a pub, many of which are staying open overnight.

"I'm going to sit with a beer in my hand watching the results coming in," Roberts said.

But financial consultant Michael MacPhee, a No voter, said he would observe the returns coming in "with anxiety."

He said Scottish independence was "the daftest idea I've ever heard."