Galloway ensures its part in Scottish history books as voters break records with 87.5% turnout

The country awoke last Thursday eager to set off for the polling stations to cast their historic vote in the referendum.

As the world’s media curtailed stories of political promises and replaced shots of finger-pointing party leaders with exterior shots of polling stations up and down Scotland, the sense of anticipation on the street was noticable.

Polling stations opened at 7am and it didn’t take long for the country to ditch its breakfast and descend to be part of one of Scotland’s most historical days, politically or otherwise, which has been a long time coming.

The people of Dumfries and Galloway cast their votes with decorum and poise in one of the 199 polling stations based at 136 locations in the region. The largest polling station location was Stranraer Fire Station, eligible for 976 voters (with Tundergarth near Dumfries having the smallest at just 84).

One or two local MPs and councillors reported a spot of heckling outside the polling stations where they cast their own votes, but took it all in good spirits.

Throughout the day, a steady flow of voters contributed and exercised the right to vote and by 10pm, as the final polling stations closed, a nation took to its TVs, computers and phones to await the figures that could change the face of a country forever.

Months, or even years, of intense campaigning led up to the next few hours and as the ballot boxes began to arrive at local counting centres – for Dumfries an Galloway it was Easterbrook Hall under the watchful eye of experienced Returning Officer Alex Haswell.

At 10pm on the dot, Mr Haswell ordered the count of postal votes to commence and declared a 95% turnout in that category.

The first polling station box was delivered at 10.16pm, removed from one of the secure vans under the watchful eye of several police officers and carried into the counting area where it was recorded, opened and emptied for counting by some of the 175 council staff on duty.

A steady trickle of boxes then began to arrive from all corners of the region, with the count proceeding incident-free and ahead of schedule for most of the evening.

The final box arrived shortly after midnight and soon spoiled and ineligible ballot papers were scrutinised and discounted while all 106,775 eligible papers were verified and an 87.5% voter turnout figure was announced.

As the yes/no count then got underway, observers began making predictions while keeping an eye on the national news on a TV screen in a room nearby.

Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm said: “I think we could be looking at a 65% no.” And MSP Alex Fergusson said there was “room for optimism”.

Yes campaigners in the count hall began to take on a crestfallen air as it became apparent they wouldn’t be celebrating victory, with some even wiping away a tear and others calling taxis home.

As more and more no declarations were made from councils around Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway was looking like it would follow suit.

By 3.45am, the result was clear and despite the delays from Mr Haswell, required by law to call in the regional result to the country’s count HQ in Edinburgh before revealing it publicly, the no activists were already smiling.

Two piles of votes, one larger on a table labelled ‘no’ and one labelled ‘yes’, told the story.

at 4.20am the news finally came that Dumfries and Galloway had chosen to oppose an independent Scotland, with predictions spot on at 65.5% in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.

The news absorbed, the hall quickly emptied as all – happy and sad – went home.