For Scots, Wednesday was a day of excitement, apprehension, and a flood of final appeals before a big decision. In a matter of hours, they will determine whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom and becomes an independent state.
A full 97 percent of those eligible have registered to vote — including, for the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds — in a referendum that polls suggest is too close to call.
A phone poll of 1,373 people by Ipsos MORI, released Wednesday, put opposition to independence at 51 percent and support at 49 percent, with 5 percent of voters undecided.
That means neither side can feel confident, given the margin of error of about plus or minus three percentage points.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself a Scot, told a No campaign rally that the quiet majority of pro-Union Scots “will be silent no more,” while pro-independence leader Alex Salmond urged voters to seize a democratic opportunity 307 years in the making.
In its final hours, the battle for Scotland had all the trappings of a normal election campaign: “Yes Scotland” and “No, Thanks” posters in windows, buttons on jackets, leaflets on street corners and megaphone-topped campaign cars cruising the streets blasting out Scottish songs and “Children of the Revolution.”
But it is, both sides acknowledge, a once-in-a-generation — maybe once-in-a-lifetime — choice that could redraw the map of the United Kingdom.
The gravity of the imminent decision was hitting home for many voters as political leaders made passionate, final pleas for their sides. More than 4.2 million people are registered to vote in the country of 5.3 million people.
Cathy Chance, who works for Britain’s National Health Service in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, said she would leave Scotland if it became independent.
“I don’t want to live under a nation that’s nationalistic,” she said. “I don’t think the world needs another political barrier.”
On the other side, Yes campaigner Roisin McLaren said she was finally letting herself believe independence might be possible.
“My family has campaigned for independence for a long, long time, and it’s always been a pipe dream,” the Edinburgh University student said as she knocked on doors in a last-minute effort to convert wavering electors. “Just in the last few days it’s seemed possible, within reach. I can almost taste it.”
Politicians on both sides expressed confidence in the Scottish public, but uncertainty rippled below the surface.
Opinion polls have failed to put either side decisively ahead.
A Yes vote would trigger months of negotiations between Scotland and the British government over the messy details of independence, which Scottish authorities say will take effect on March 24, 2016, the anniversary of the date in 1707 that Scotland decided to unite with Britain.