Scotland has finished a historic day of voting and the first set of results are starting to come in. As darkness fell on the parliament in Edinburgh pipers played, campaigners relaxed, and vodka bottles emerged from sporrans.
An unprecedented amount of the population had answered one simply stated but incredibly complex question: 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' A yes majority would end the country's 307-year-old union with England and create an an independent state.
More than 2,600 polling stations stayed open from 7am until 10pm local time on Thursday. The vote count is currently underway and results will roll in through Friday morning. The first (and smallest) council, Clackmannanshire, has declared a No victory with more than 19,000 votes, compared to more than 16,000 on the yes side. The country reported 88 percent turnout.
Aberdeen is expected to be the last to declare, at 6 o'clock on Friday morning. However some of Scotland's regions are extremely remote and votes will be transported to counting centers by helicopter and boat, meaning bad weather could delay results.
The YouGov exit poll from Thursday put the 'no' campaign at an 8 percent lead, but whichever way the vote goes the general consensus among the Scottish is that the political conversation inspired by the referendum has permanently altered Scotland.
Andy Murray, the Scottish Wimbledon champion, urged Scots to vote yes as supporters of independence mounted a final feverish push on the eve of the referendum via Twitter.
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!
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray)September 18, 2014
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond cast his vote at 9am on Thursday morning at a polling station in Strichen, near Aberdeen, in the north west of Scotland. He later went on a tour of his constituency, urging supporters to galvanize the vote in the last hours of polling.
In the town of Turriff, located in Aberdeenshire council, Salmond sought to capitalize on the show of support from the Scottish sports icon, telling Yes voters: "Did you see that forearm smash from Andy Murray?"
"We now have the best part of 10 hours to persuade our fellow citizens to vote to put the future in our hands."
A record 97 percent of the 5.2 million residents, registered to vote, and turnout was expected to be upwards of 80 percent, potentially topping any previous British election. The push to get out the vote was strong. This is the first time that 16 and 17-year-olds can participate, though most of them had to wait until after school. A drive was also run to register homeless people.
Gregor Angus, 17, from Livingston, was soaking up the excitement outside the parliament in Edinburgh. He told VICE News he understood concerns over 16 and 17-year-olds voting because some at that age were easily influenced, but said he believed they should have a say in the future of their country.
"Most of my friends are yes voters, but there are quite a few no voters too. Everyone's really excited that they can finally vote," he said.
On the streets of the capital, it is the Yes campaign that is the most visible. James McLeod, 46, an art student from Edinburgh College, painted "yes" all over his car before parking it outside the parliament.
"I'm hoping that even if it changes one person's mind then it changes something because every vote is going to count tonight," he told VICE News, explaining that the vote wasn't just about independence.
"I think there's a kind of movement at the moment that what's happening in Scotland is happening in other places around the world. It's not just about being an independent Scotland, it's about compassion," he said. "Things that are going on around the world that we don't necessarily agree with and I'm hoping that we become a kind of global movement."
The prospect of the country leaving Britain, and taking a third of the UK's territory with it, has led to fears for Scotland's economic prospects. Questions have also arisen about what would happen to its currency and to the UK's Trident missiles, the nuclear weapons housed at the Faslane Naval Base on the Gare Loch.
Scotland tends to be left-leaning, and during the last election voted in just one member of the Conservative Party. Devolution has brought the country its own parliament at Holyrood and some powers, but opting for independence would give it direct control over its own affairs, something that many Scots feel is lacking.
Rachel Holmes, 47, a chartered accountant from Edinburgh, told VICE News she was voting in favor of independence not to break up Britain, but so that Scotland could choose for itself "how to spend our resources and what's right for us here, the people who live here."
"I think being British means that you're in a family of nations, but that doesn't mean that we can't govern ourselves as individual nations ... it's not that the land mass is coming apart, it's just a group of people in one of those countries truly governing themselves like any normal nation does."
But David Cameron (not the British prime minister) said in his coffee shop on Edinburgh's Royal Mile that the idea of Britishness was "in the past". The 48-year-old Yes voter told VICE News: "We're not British, we're Scottish, and only Scottish. No matter which way it goes we have to accept it, but Team Scotland will stay united and this isn't going away."
"We've been taken for a ride for too long. We want to make our own decisions," said his 58-year-old husband, John Clark. "And we don't want weapons of mass destruction here," he added, referring to the UK's Trident nuclear missiles which are based in Scotland.
The prevailing feeling among many here is uncertainty. The International Monetary Fund's deputy spokesman, William Murray, noted earlier this week: "A Yes vote would raise a number of important and complicated issues that would have to be negotiated. The main immediate effect is likely to be uncertainty over the transition to potentially new and different monetary, financial, and fiscal frameworks in Scotland."
British Prime Minister David Cameron warned voters that this was a "once and for all" decision. Queen Elizabeth has remained neutral, but stated earlier this week that she "hopes voters think carefully."
In Edinburgh, Lynn, a 63-year-old retiree who was voting against independence, said she was the only person on her street with campaign posters in her window.
"We've got a lot of history in the UK and I feel it's better to have 63 million people together than smaller groups, and I think better together to support each other," she told VICE News. "I feel a lot of Scottish people have done very well under the United Kingdom."
Greg Lane, 20, an economics and politics student at Edinburgh University, is originally from England but has lived in Scotland for the past 10 years. He also voted no. He told VICE News: "I just don't think separation is the answer to any of the problems that we face at the moment, and we'd be much better served together in trying to achieve that change for 60 million people."
If the vote was to pass, he said, the next necessary move would be to accept it, and move on to "damage limitation."
Aside from those who reside in Scotland, the English do not have a vote over the potential break-up of the Union, but many have attempted to have a voice through rallies and celebrity calls for the Scottish to stay. One such man, 59-year-old John Loughrey from Wandsworth in London, traveled to Edinburgh on his own to campaign for the day. He told VICE News: "I have a bit of respect for Alex Salmond, but he's leading Scotland down the wrong path. He's full of gas, and he's running out of gas."
The debate over independence has evoked strong passions, at times spilling over into fierce antagonism between yes and no supporters on the streets and on social media.
Labor party leader Ed Miliband was forced to retreat from an appearance in Edinburgh earlier this week when he was mobbed and heckled by Yes supporters. He later told the BBC he believed the pro-independence campaign had an "ugly side," adding to complaints from No supporters of alleged intimidation over their views. Salmond, who has been criticized for characterizing those who plan to vote "no" as unpatriotic and not part of "Team Scotland," denies all allegations of improper conduct on the part of his campaign.
On the eve of the referendum, the author JK Rowling — who grew up in England but has lived in Edinburgh for the past two decades and who attracted considerable online abuse with her support for the union earlier this year — issued a plea against divisions over the referendum.
The referendum has also attracted considerable attention from other independence movements in Europe. Particularly in Spain's autonomous region of Catalonia, stoking anxieties in the Spanish government which has issued repeated warnings that an independent Scotland will not easily be granted membership of the European Union.
In a square in Edinburgh a group of Catalans performed the sardana, a traditional circle dance. Daniel Rue, 65, told VICE News that he had traveled alone to Scotland, but he estimated that 200 had made the trip. He booked his flight on Tuesday when he realized that there was a chance the referendum might pass.
"We came first of all to be a witness of the process and secondly to give support to the referendum," he said.