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JAMIE STONE: Fine line between success and defeat in Highland democracy

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Jamie's Journal by Jamie Stone

No voter questions the running of our elections, Jamie says.
No voter questions the running of our elections, Jamie says.

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings…”

That’s what some said, as I watched the council election votes being counted in Inverness on Friday. (By the way, my heartiest congratulations to the eight Caithness councillors who were elected or re-elected that day. Well done them.)

The saying apparently comes from the valkyrie Brünnhilde, always played by a very well-built singer, whose farewell scene in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (‘the end of the world’) always seems to take for ever to an audience worrying about getting a drink before closing time.

“The people have spoken, the blighters…” or something like that – so the American political consultant Dick Tuck said when he lost his one and only election (to the California State Senate) in 1966. This saying has also entered the political language of our time. It seems apposite when you reflect on those candidates who were not so fortunate last week. Politics is a rough old game.

It was funny, driving to Inverness Leisure Centre where the votes were being counted. A slight shiver ran up my back as I pulled up and stared at the big dark building. Just two-and-a-half years ago, this was where I nearly lost my seat. My majority of 204 is one of the tightest in the country.

And then I thought on the election that I did lose back in 2016 – when Gail Ross beat me fair and square for the Scottish Parliament. So I can say that I know only too well both sides of the political coin as it spins in the air. Success is great, defeat is… well let’s just say that it is character forming.

Arising from all this – two points. Firstly, hats off to the officials all over the UK who organise and run our elections, both national and local.

I’ve been in the game for a long time now and I can testify that these people do a great job, one of the highest standard and absolutely beyond reproach. Not one voter out there ever questions the actual running of our elections. Indeed I believe that we in the UK set a world example.

The second facet – and again I speak from experience – is that fellow candidates of hugely differing political persuasions treat each other with courtesy and kindness. This too is something that sets a world example. Political leaders may knock chunks out of each other on the telly, but you attend a hustings in a village hall in the Highlands and you will see something very different.

Dare I say this? Dash it I will – that is why despite political differences, victory and defeat, Gail Ross and I remain good friends today.

I close with an anecdote.

At one election I met a friend who, for the first time in his life, was the presiding officer in charge of a polling station in Easter Ross.

“I’ve finally made it, Jamie. Been asking to do this for years.”

I was pleased for him.

That night they counted the votes in Wick’s Assembly Rooms – and there was one heck of a stramash going on up by the left of the stage. I walked up and asked what was going on.

“The wretched presiding officer went and put the special key into the ballot box with all the votes. It won’t come out and now we are having to break the box open.” As he spoke, I heard the clang of hammer and chisel being applied to an old-fashioned black steel box.

It was my pal’s box. He wasn’t asked to be a presiding officer again…

Jamie Stone.
Jamie Stone.
  • Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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