Crowds flock to Scotland`s crucial referendum

Queues formed outside polling stations as Scots came out en masse on Thursday to vote for or against independence, with the "Yes" and "No" campaigns still vying to the last to win over voters in a blizzard of flags, posters and badges.

Edinburgh: Queues formed outside polling stations as Scots came out en masse on Thursday to vote for or against independence, with the "Yes" and "No" campaigns still vying to the last to win over voters in a blizzard of flags, posters and badges.

Voters turned out even before polling stations opened in Edinburgh -- many speaking of their delight at the massive democratic participation, with official predictions of an up to 80 percent turnout.

However, others breathed a sigh of relief after a long and sometimes bitter campaign.

"The damage this referendum has done to Scotland, splitting families, splitting communities, is really quite frightening," said Alistair Eastern, a tired-looking 60-year-old pensioner, after voting in the city, the seat of the regional government.

"I think the bitterness that this campaign has caused is going to last a long, long time."

After voting in Glasgow city centre, 23-year-old Aidan Ford said: "I felt different today than most of the previous votes. I might be making a difference and my vote counts".

Flag-waving schoolchildren greeted pro-independence leader Alex Salmond in the village of Strichen in his constituency in the farming region of Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland.

"It`s an extraordinary moment. It`s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Salmond told AFP after casting his ballot.

"I think you can see already from the number of people voting. Normally the voting here in Strichen is in that wee room there. Now they`re in the big hall and that`s so as they can accomodate the number of people," he said.There were also more light-hearted moments, with a line of washing appearing in front of Edinburgh Castle with the slogan "Vote With Clean Pants!" and a Scottish flag draped over a statue of novelist and playwright Sir Walter Scott.

"Families have been divided but it has also been a wonderful democratic process where today possibly 97 percent of those eligible to vote are going to be turning up to vote," said David Cruckshank, a 40-year-old lawyer in Edinburgh.

"Whatever the result, both sides have to accept it," he said.

In Glasgow, Scottish flags could be seen hanging from a Queen Victoria statue in the centre but in Royal Exchange Square, the mockery was of a more traditional nature -- the Duke of Wellington statue was topped with a traffic cone.

Reading the newspaper on a bench nearby after voting, 64-year-old James Hawkin said: "I think the result will be tight."

In Edinburgh, Charlotte Farish, 34, turned up before her polling station opened to be the first to vote before taking her two children to school and then going to work.

"It`s an important day. This is a decision which lasts forever, which will impact my children," she said.

The Church of Scotland, which is the biggest religious denomination in the region, has urged Scots to vote with "cool heads" and "calm hearts" and with "a spirit of unity".

Bestselling "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, who is English but lives in Edinburgh and has been a leading figure in the "No" campaign, echoed that sentiment with a tweet reading: "Whatever happens, I hope we`re all friends by Saturday".

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