Mary Pitcaithly, chief counting officer in the Scottish referendum, said she was satisfied that all counts were conducted properly. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesTens of thousands sign petitions wanting recount or fresh vote based on videos that purport to show evidence of electoral fraud.
By mid-afternoon on Monday the number of names on change.org had topped 87,000. “We the undersigned demand a re-vote of the Scottish referendum, counted by impartial international parties,” reads the petition, which goes on to cite “countless evidences of fraud” documented during Thursday’s poll on independence.
At 38degrees.org.uk, a second petition had more than 62,000 signatories. “Investigate the vote counting procedures,” it demands. “Allow an independent re-count of all votes.”
“I have [seen] videos that look like cheating and also [too] many yes voters for the result to be no,” wrote one signatory, Zoe M. “Why [were] there Yes votes photographed on a No table?” asked Maxine B. “Why [are] there videos of votes being tampered with or moved around while the counter is seen looking around making sure no one was watching?” “I’m a NO voter and even I think this is rigged,” said Zeus M.
The then first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, may have called on his supporters to “accept the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland” on Friday, but for significant numbers of people, accepting that the poll was fair, and its result a rejection of independence, has proved impossible.
Many refer to a snippet of video in which a counting officer at the Dundee polling station appears to lift votes from a yes pile and place them under no.
For many, the fire alarms that caused the brief evacuation of the Dundee count, and the fact that a Russian observer from a pro-Kremlin monitoring agency had claimed the ballot was fixed to avoid parallels to the situation in Crimea, were taken as further causes for suspicion.
Jim Sillars, the former deputy leader of the Scottish National party (SNP), used Twitter to distribute a video entitled “Exposed!” and call for an inquiry.
There was a faintly exasperated air at the office of the chief counting officer in Edinburgh over the rumours which, according to one observer, had “grown arms and legs” over the weekend.
All of the apparently suspicious evidence could be easily explained, said a spokeswoman, pointing out that the yes campaign itself had intervened on Twitter on Thursday night to reassure voters that there was nothing awry with the Dundee footage.
At times, uncounted ballots would be placed on tables that had yes or no signs attached before being sorted, she said. And piles that didn’t reach round numbers of 50 or 100 would be wrapped in a piece of paper on which the total number of votes would be written, explaining the Edinburgh footage.
In a statement, the chief counting officer, Mary Pitcaithly, said she was “satisfied that all counts throughout Scotland were properly conducted and scrutinised by thousands of people representing both the Yes Scotland and the Better Together campaigns, as well as international election observers, media and police. None of these people raised any concerns during the verification, counting and adjudication stages.”
Salmond may have claimed over the weekend that no voters were “gulled” and “tricked” into rejecting independence, but a spokesman said that neither he nor the SNP believed there was anything untoward about the count itself.
But passions, and suspicions, have been running high among some in Scotland for months, making the questioning of the poll perhaps unsurprising.
A YouGov poll conducted shortly before the vote found that 42% thought it was “probably true” that BP had conspired with the British government to conceal a major oil discovery off the west coast of Shetland, meaning that a visit to the islands by the prime minister, David Cameron, had been hushed up.
Sillars, meanwhile, had previously claimed that MI5 sleeper agents had infiltrated yes campaign groups to influence the vote, a claim supported by a quarter of those polled by YouGov.
In that context, despite the insistence that these are baseless conspiracy theories, many remain sceptical. “If there is even the slightest bit of doubt about vote rigging I want it to be fully investigated,” wrote Catriona Zappert from Glasgow of her reasons for signing the change.org petition. “I can’t believe the yes vote was so low, please recount and confirm the results are accurate or I cannot rest.”