Britain goes to the polls on coalition’s day of reckoning

By Alex Stevenson

The biggest polling day outside of the general election took place today, as people across Britain voted in the AV referendum, local and devolved administration elections.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 BST and shut at 22:00 BST.

Across the country, the referendum on whether Britain should replace the first-past-the-post voting system used to elect MPs with the alternative vote took place.

Both the Yes to Fairer Votes and No to AV campaigns implemented major ‘get out the vote’ pushes.

In an email to Conservative supporters, prime minister David Cameron wrote: “Unless enough people go out and vote, Britain could sleepwalk into a system that damages our democracy permanently. So I urge you to get down the polling station and vote ‘No’ to AV.”

The chair of Yes to Fairer Votes, Katie Ghose, asked her supporters whether they were “ready to make history”.

“This is our once in a lifetime chance to have a say on how we vote – our chance to make our politics fairer,” she wrote.

“Whether you’ve got 15 minutes or a few hours to spare today, give your time to get out the vote and you can rest well tonight in the knowledge that you’ve done your bit for a better democracy.” monthly podcast: Electoral reform

Counting of votes for the referendum will began at 16:00 BST tomorrow, with the result expected before midnight on Friday.

By that time the make-up of the new Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations should be known.

In Scotland, the Scottish National party (SNP) will be hoping to improve on its 47 seats in Holyrood won four years ago. The Labour party took 46 seats in 2007, but sat in opposition as the SNP took power for the first time.

State of play: Scottish elections 2011

In Wales, the Labour party emerged on top in 2007 with 26 seats. It joined in a coalition with the nationalist Plaid Cymru party, who were the second-largest party with 15 seats.

State of play: Welsh elections 2011

In Northern Ireland, the Assembly will pose a big test for the smaller parties, especially the Ulster Unionist party which finished third in 2007 with 18 seats. The Democratic Unionist party took 36 seats but agreed a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein and its 28 seats.

Elections to 26 local councils also took place across the province.

England sees local elections taking place in 279 councils. Attention is on whether the Liberal Democrats can defend many of their seats, as they face the test of being a party of national government for the first time in decades.

State of play: Local elections 2011

There is also a by-election taking place in Leicester South today, after Sir Peter Soulsby stood down to run for the city’s mayoralty.