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Referendum Vote Count Begins In Scotland

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

If there was ever a day to begin the hour with bagpipes, today is that day. This bagpiper was playing on the Royal Mile in the center of Edinburgh, as a long day of voting in Scotland drew to a close. He stood across from a polling station where Scots were deciding whether to break a 300-year-old union and leave the United Kingdom. Now the counting of ballots has begun. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from Edinburgh, in the Hall where the counting is taking place. And Ari, you've been out and about today. What was the scene?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It had an electric feel. It was truly a historic moment. The kind of vote people knew comes along once in generations. There were people on the street wearing kilts, as you said, bagpipe players walking around waving the saltire - the blue and white flag of Scotland. Lots of people wore yes and no pins, of course. But from talking to people on both sides, this did not feel to me like a day that belonged to one side or the other. It felt like a day that the country of Scotland came together to cast a peaceful vote to determine their future and decide how they want to be governed. And when I say the people of Scotland, I mean the whole country - 97 percent of eligible voters registered for this referendum. So it really was mass participation.

BLOCK: Yeah, and in your unscientific sampling of voter opinion, what did you hear from people?

SHAPIRO: Very, very thoughtful, specific reasons for people's votes. One woman who works in social services told me that she voted yes because she thought that a government elected by Scottish people would care more about welfare. Here's another yes voter, a woman named Rachel Care (ph).

RACHEL CARE: The next few years are definitely not going to be easy. It's going to take a lot of work. It's not going to be an overnight success. A lot of things are going to change. But I do believe that we are now on track towards creating a better, fairer country for everybody that lives here.

BLOCK: And Ari, I'm still hearing the bagpipes going behind her in there. (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah. (Laughter).

BLOCK: Rachel Care, there, a yes voter in favor of independence. What about the no voters? What did they have to say?

SHAPIRO: Again, very thoughtful, reasoned explanations for their votes. One woman who's an HIV researcher told me that the money for most of Scotland's scientific research comes from London-based grants. And she is afraid that in an independent Scotland, that money would dry up. Here's another no voter, a man named Ben Gray (ph), who told me he does not like the idea of putting up barriers.

BEN GRAY: All around the world, nationalism seems to be on the up. And I think a big, strong no today would be a very good way to show that in Britain, we're not interested building borders, but rather crossing borders and finding ways of cooperating with democratically with people of different political views and cultural backgrounds.

BLOCK: Well, Ari, the polls are closed, and the counting has begun. How does it work?

SHAPIRO: Well, these millions of ballots, where people have taken a pencil to a piece of paper - they've been cast in some 5,000 polling sites around the country. They get delivered to 32 counting sites around Scotland, some being carried by a boat and helicopter from remote islands. We are right now at the largest counting site in the country, in the capital, Edinburgh. After each city finishes the count, the tally comes here to the capital. And at some point, likely early Friday morning, the final announcement will be made. And Melissa, I have to tell you, even if we were not broadcasting to the country right now, and you were just asking me privately, between you and me, what the outcome is going to be, I would tell you I honestly do not know.

BLOCK: And maybe part of the reason you do not know is there is - as I understand it - there have been no exit polls today.

SHAPIRO: No exit polls and also, the British media don't have the First Amendment. They are legally prohibited from reporting anything that could possibly sway a voter's opinion. So all day, there has been this strange, eerie silence where the only thing we hear from the usually raucous British media is what the weather was and what people were wearing.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Ari Shapiro in Edinburgh, covering the vote on independence for Scotland. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.