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Extra police at poll stations considered for referendum

THE expected very high turnout at the independence referendum has prompted the electoral authorities to discuss having more police at polling stations.

The "high tensions" involved, and potential flashpoints such as people turning up to vote and finding they are not registered, or finding themselves queuing outside polling station as they are about to close, have been discussed with Police Scotland, according to Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly.

The deadline for registering to vote is midnight tomorrow and Mrs Pitcaithly is urging anyone who has not voted in recent years or who has moved home recently to check their entitlement with their local council.

An exceptionally high turnout is being widely predicted, and First Minister Alex Salmond is speaking of the "missing million" who do not regularly cast their vote as being crucial to the outcome of the referendum.

Mrs Pitcaithly told The Herald: "We have been speaking to the police about security and they are going to take a view much closer to the day about whether or not there are particular areas which they might want to put particular resource into.

"That's an operational matter for them, but they are familiar with the difficulties that high turnout could produce, and indeed high tensions, so they have been very, very helpful and supportive. We have had some very useful meetings with the police at a senior level about planning for this event."

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: "The referendum is a significant event which is expected to attract a higher than normal turnout.

"Policing arrangements for the referendum are well in hand and will be appropriate and proportionate.

"Police Scotland's priority is to ensure public safety and security. We will respond appropriately to any issues which arise.

"We will not offer comment on the numbers of officers or their specific operational deployment."

The Chief Returning Officer, who as convener of the Electoral Management Board is in charge of all aspects of polling day and the overnight count, confirmed that anyone joining a queue at a polling station by 10 o'clock would be allowed to vote.

She said: "There will be at least two officials at each polling station, a presiding officer [PO] and a clerk, and there could be others.

"There could be more than one polling station at a polling place, particularly in a busy area, or there could be an extra clerk or information officer.

"At that stage if a queue starts to form before 10 o'clock the PO would ask one of the other members of staff to go out and mark the end of the queue and say: 'This is it, anybody behind me now isn't going to get in but if you're in front of me you will.'

"If there's any issue about trouble I would expect them to be using their mobile phone to contact the local police to see if they need support.

"So if people start jostling or whatever, phone the police. If a queue is starting to form I would imagine it would not be a common occurrence so the police would probably be interested.

"You would not expect a police presence all day at every station but at busy stations or if there have been any issues in the course of the day that would be an operational matter for the police."

Mrs Pitcaithly also revealed a further measure being taken to ease the pressures of a high turnout. "The other thing we have done is to put a limit on the number of electors who can use each polling station," she said.

"So in some elections where we might anticipate a relatively low turnout we have been comfortable for polling stations to have 1,200 or even more electors using them. This time we have said that generally 800 should be the maximum.

"We're trying to minimise the possibility of potential queues. We don't want people to turn up and to get fed up waiting and disappear. We want them to be able to come in, cast their vote, and leave without there being any barriers to that."

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