Tension, tears and proof that every vote does indeed count

Elizabeth Riches lost out to Stephen Gethins in North East Fife by just two votes. (Pic George McLuskie).
Elizabeth Riches lost out to Stephen Gethins in North East Fife by just two votes. (Pic George McLuskie).

If the 2015 General election count in Fife was historic, last night’s equivalent was nothing short of dramatic.

Ahead of polling day the North East Fife result was always the one seat in the region that had the potential to throw up a story. However, little did we know just how much of a nerve shredding experience it would be of all concerned.

By 2.30am the rumours of a recount in the battle between SNP’s Stephen Gethins and the Liberal Democrat challenger Elizabeth Riches were confirmed by Presiding Officer Steve Grimmond .The difference was just three votes in favour of the Lib Dem camp.

Counters went back to work and and hour later and after much deliberation between agents and senior count officials, the difference was now just two solitary votes in favour of Riches.

As the Nationalist’s used their right to demand a further reconsideration of the ballot papers, perplexed looks formed on faces. Much chin stroking ensued as the reality sunk in that this could indeed be a longer night than any had hoped or expected.

Tensions were rising, challenges regarding the interpretation of spoiled ballot papers and a situation with such fine margins sent the count’s legal team reaching for the rule books as they sort direction of how to proceed in a never before seen scenario in Fife.

And then the news of a third recount as the pendulum swung in favour Gethins, now ahead by two.

Worries were expressed over counter fatigue, consideration was given to whether the count could be legally suspended and senior police officers were brief as to the practicalities of sealing off a building and putting ballot papers under police guard.

And still the tension mounted, as many a campaigner went in search of caffeine to keep them going.

How long could this continue? Sighs and slumped shoulders as one hack confirmed the record number of recounts was seven.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he’d never experienced anything as dramatic and as close in his political life. Presiding Officer Grimmond said it had thrown up an unprecedented set of circumstances for all involved.

Then the news that there had been no movement in the result. Fraught expressions on the faces of Riches’ supporters, disbelief of the those of the Nationalists.

Riches’ agent pressed for a fourth recount, but Grimmond used his power to declare the result to be final, and at 7.15am he declared Gethins the winner.

There were tears on both sides but the reactions of each camp could not have been more stark.

Nerves had been shredded, nails bitten and energy sapped.

There was talk of a possible legal challenge, both candidates were visibly and emotionally drained, as they struggled for the words that would adequately sum up such a dramatic conclusion.

A General Election night in Fife like no other, and proof if it was ever needed that every vote does indeed count.