Island Counting Officer explains how the count will work

Thousands of islanders will be voting in today's referendum on Scottish Independence. Pictured below is Counting Officer for the Western Isles Malcolm Burr.
Thousands of islanders will be voting in today's referendum on Scottish Independence. Pictured below is Counting Officer for the Western Isles Malcolm Burr.

There are several things that will make today’s referendum exceptional – not least the importance of the decision that faces those living in Scotland.

The eyes of the world will be on the country - and its 32 local authority areas - as the results roll in and are added to the national total sometime tomorrow morning (Friday).

The man in charge in the Western Isles is the Counting Officer, Comhairle Chief Executive Malcolm Burr, and he is preparing for all eventualities.

That includes taking into consideration the impact the weather could have on getting ballot papers to the count itself.

“If all goes well and the planes fly to schedule I would hope to declare [the result for the Western Isles] at around 2am,” Mr Burr said. “Plan B, as this is weather dependent, involves bringing the Uist and Barra boxes to Harris by boat. That would delay a declaration until probably 5am.”

Mr Burr expects the ballot boxes to be full and said an 80% turnout in the Isles wouldn’t surprise him with the number of islanders taking part in national elections usually standing at 60-70%.

“In the Western Isles there is traditionally a higher turnout than in the rest of Scotland I’m glad to say,” Mr Burr explained. “The number of postal voters has increased substantially from the European Parliament elections which were only five months ago. The phones have been busy with people wanting to check they have been doing things right and that they have their vote. So yes we’re expecting a very high turnout.”

It’s not just an increase in the number of ballot papers however that make this vote exceptional.

“This referendum is different in the number of agents involved,” Mr Burr said. “There are 15 registered referendum agents for the Western Isles and each of these is allowed to appoint four counting agents to supervise, for their purposes, the counting of votes on the night.

“We have 44 counting agents, which is something of an increased number, and we’ll make provisions for them to observe the tables. There will be six counting tables and we’ll process systematically until we declare the results.”

If the polls are anything to go by this could be an exceptionally close result - so what is the possibility of a recount locally?

Mr Burr explained: “The recount is interesting because this is a national referendum but of course it is being counted locally. A close result in any one area does not mean there is a close result nationally.

“I adopt the practice of asking the agents at various different stages of the count whether they have any concerns or issues and if they do I ask them to notify myself or Derek MacKay, the Deputy Counting Officer. Unless there are any objections to the process that would cause me to recount it is difficult to see grounds for one.”

He continued: “Once I speak to the Chief Counting Officer [Mary Pitcaithly who will be in Edinburgh] and our result is declared my counting staff will be going home and that is the case across Scotland. So even if the result is very, very close nationally there is no one sitting in halls to recount all the votes across Scotland.

“The result is the result, and if there is satisfaction locally in how the votes have been counted there must be satisfaction with the result total because it comprises 32 local counts.”