September 8, 2014 / 1:50 PM / 5 years ago

Helicopters to help speed Scottish vote count

* Referendum result should known by next morning

* Helicopters to fly ballot boxes form remote islands

* More than 4 million people - including non-Scots - may vote

By Alistair Smout

EDINBURGH, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Scots should know by the early morning of Friday, Sept. 19, whether they have chosen to become an independent nation or to stay a part of the United Kingdom thanks to special measures to get votes counted as soon as possible.

In a country that includes rugged, remote highlands and islands, lights will be installed at rural helicopter pads so that ballot papers can be carried to regional counting centres overnight instead of the following morning as in elections.

Ballot counting will start right after polling stations in schools, church halls and community centres from the Borders to the Shetland Islands in the North Sea close at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sept. 18 after opening at 7 a.m.

A total of 4,166,683 Scots and residents of Scotland are registered to vote in the historic referendum. The white ballot paper will ask the simple, single question: “Should Scotland be an independent country - Yes or No.?

A victory for “Yes” would mean the break-up of the United Kingdom after more than 300 years of shared government and entwined history, bringing on a multitude of political, economic and administrative issues to work through. A “No” vote would keep the union together.

Polls indicate a knife-edge finish and either result would leave a divided country.

The counting will take place in each of the 32 regional centres, which will then report their results to the chief counting officer at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston, near Edinburgh. They will be announced as they come in and are verified.

“There are variables - the weather, local recounts. But we would except the result to be announced formally round about breakfast,” said Susan Ferrier, a media officer with the Scottish Independence Referendum office.

However, the running totals may indicate a result far earlier in the morning. “That is very likely indeed,” she said.

Helicopters will be used to fly ballot boxes from islands in Argyll and Bute to the counting centre at Lochgilphead.

The sparsely-populated west coast region includes 26 inhabited islands, and a third of its population live in settlements of fewer than 1,000 people.

Many of landing sites cannot be used at night due to the darkness. So the council has enlisted the help of the police and coastguard to install temporary lighting - an action which could speed up the counting process by up to seven hours. The weight of numbers from the big urban centers, however, may mean the trend is clear before the votes from the remotest areas come in.

“I want everyone’s vote to count,” Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly said in a statement.

There is only one result - the aggregate of all 32 local totals. The regional centres can hold a recount prior to reporting in their total, but once it is announced, any challenges will have to be made through the courts.

“The single, most important aspect of my role is to deliver a result that is trusted and accepted. The security, integrity and accuracy of the process are vital,” Pitcaithly said.

The voting rolls include Scots and non-Scots as any legal resident who is registered may take part.

That means that the many Scots living and working in England do not get a vote unless they are registered in their mother country. More than 400,000 English residents will be able to vote, along with 120,000 other EU citizens, among whom Poles account for the biggest share. (Additional reporting and writing by Angus MacSwan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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