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Britain votes in knife-edge polls; EU membership, Scotland’s future on the line

Britain votes in knife-edge polls; EU membership, Scotland’s future on the line

LONDON: Britons voted on Thursday in a knife-edge general election that could put their country’s membership of the European Union in question and raise the likelihood of independence for Scotland.

Voters casting their ballots in the closest contest in decades faced a choice between a government led by Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives or by Ed Miliband’s centre-left Labour.

Capturing the tense mood, The Times carried a front page with the words “Judgment Day” emblazoned over a picture of the sun setting behind Big Ben, calling it the “most important election for a generation”.

The Guardian front page carried the headline “It couldn’t be closer” above a picture of the chief protagonists in a campaign dominated by the economy, the state-run health service and immigration.

“I wouldn’t say it’s exciting — its more unnerving,” said Annette, a 59-year-old community worker in south London, who declined to give her last name.

“In the past there’s been a clear demarcation, where with each party you knew exactly where you stood. Whereas now, it’s a shade of grey rather than red, or blue or green”. While the leaders of both main parties insist they can win a clear majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, they will almost certainly have to work with smaller parties to form a government. Who will team up with whom is the big question.

The last three polls released on Wednesday showed a dead heat between the two main parties, tied at 34 per cent, 35pc and 31.4pc. According to a YouGov poll, 14pc were still undecided.

More than 45 million Britons are eligible to vote at polling stations located everywhere from shipping containers to churches, funeral parlours to pubs, a school bus, a lido and a football ground. Voters have been warned against taking selfies while they vote as sharing an image that shows — accidentally or not — how someone voted would infringe secrecy rules and could lead to a six-month prison sentence.

Throughout the day, party activists at each location conducted the traditional head count of known supporters in order that those who had not yet voted could be reminded.

Ballot boxes will close at 2100 GMT with exit polls released immediately and most results will emerge overnight, although the final tally of seats will not become clear until Friday afternoon.

Prime Minister David Cameron, 48, voted in his Witney constituency, where he was heckled by fathers’ rights campaigners including a person dressed as Elmo from the children’s show Sesame Street.

Miliband, Scottish National Party (SNP) chief Nicola Sturgeon and UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage were among the first to vote. If neither the Conservatives nor Labour win a clear majority, they will start days and possibly weeks of negotiations with smaller parties to try and build a bloc of around 326 seats.

Latest poll data suggested that the Tories were on course to win most seats by a narrow margin, with between 274 and 289, but could be hampered in forming a government by opposition from Labour and the SNP, which wants Scotland to become independent.

Support for Sturgeon’s party, which has said it would support Labour, has soared since Scotland rejected independence in a referendum last September, potentially giving Miliband, 45, the upper hand in post-election horse-trading.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015

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