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George Mitchell: Why elections are worth staying up all night for

Scotland goes to the polls next week.
Scotland goes to the polls next week.

Thank you for your feedback on last week’s column on Google. I’m glad to see that some of you have already made the change and switched.

I should be writing about another internet-related topic this week, VPNs. But when out walking the dog the other day, I started to think about the upcoming election.
“Need to get myself organised,” I muttered to myself. “Make sure I have got my supplies in.”
I made a mental list.
“I’ll need coffee, biscuits, something for breakfast, cosy pyjamas…”
Why? What on earth is going on here?
Well, I am a self-confessed political nerd. I stay up all night to watch the election results. In fact, I have done so for every major election and referendum since 1991.

Due to often being abroad with work, I’ve watched various elections in places such as Spain, Moscow and Israel.
“Were you up for Portillo?”
This is a now famous quote/question relating to the extraordinary 1997 general election when the Tories, who had been in power since 1979, got annihilated, ushering in the Tony Blair and New Labour era. Big names fell like dominoes that night and many of them, including Michael Portillo, were cabinet ministers.
Yes, I was up for Portillo and a whole host of others.

Michael Portillo after losing his seat in 1997.

I couldn’t believe the scale of it; I don’t think anyone did at the time.
Who tumbled that night? Norman Lamont, Edwina Curry, David Mellor and Malcolm Rifkind to name but a few.

In 1997 I lived in London. I had no TV in my one-room bedsit, definitely not possible to swing a cat in there either. Internet did not exist for me. So, what to do?
Three days prior, I had asked my friends upstairs – two Brazilian sisters – if I could watch the election results on their tv. “Sure,” they said, having no idea what that would entail.

Bless them, they were superb, even though they thought me totally mad. They lay in the corner of the room in their double bed, fast asleep, despite their TV on and me ranting and raving all night at whatever result came flashing up.

At 5am, one of them got up to go to the toilet. She came over and took in the scene. Me sitting at their small table, which was covered in coffee and roll-up cigarettes, still watching the box. She looked at me, at the TV and back at me. Yawned, scratched her head, shook said head, and headed off to the bathroom.

Were you up for Portillo? Do you stay up to watch election night, or simply can’t be bothered?

I saw the Scottish referendum result and UK/EU referendum result coming in live. It’s history in the making.
I remember the shock at seeing Alex Salmond lose his Gordon seat in 2017.

A defeated Alex Salmond in 2017.

But there is one incident that struck me even more than the Portillo moment. It was the general election of 2005.
Mr Keys, a father of a British soldier who had died in Iraq, stood as an anti-war candidate against then PM Tony Blair in Sedgefield.
He didn’t win of course, but after the declaration he got his chance to speak as a defeated candidate. It was poignant, powerful, heartfelt and no doubt very awkward for Blair, who had no choice but to stand on stage, listen and take it, with the world’s media watching.
It made for uncomfortable viewing, yet was also very compelling. Far more powerful watching it live compared to a re-run news clip the following day.

Prime Minister Tony Blair listens to Reg Keys speak in 2005.

If you’re not interested and have better things to do with your night, ie sleep, fair enough, I get it. But if you do “do” politics, but haven’t yet done an all-nighter before, I highly recommend it. But please, do yourself a huge favour and clear your diary for the following day, for believe me, you won’t be worth tuppence in the morning!

On election day, I vote, clear my diary for the following day, then once finished writing, try to get a kip in the late afternoon/early evening. Then, around 9.30pm, I take a hot shower and sit down in front of the box with a cup of coffee in time for the exit poll at 10pm. Then follows in-depth analysis, and the first reaction from various politicians to the exit poll. This is extremely interesting, because if the exit poll is not what they expected, you can clearly see people in panic mode, denial even.

Unfortunately, the next couple of hours can be slow, as results take time to trickle in. I sometimes manage 20 winks here. But all of a sudden, around say 1am, bang, the results come flying in and everything goes into overdrive.

More coffee is made, and I settle back in my chair and watch with bated breath.
I love the BBC coverage of election night. I love when the cameras zoom in on a count; I love watching the nervous politicians; I love the feedback and analysis from people such as Andrew Neil, and in particular the expert insight from distinguished professor John Curtice. I do, though, miss the old swing-ometer, which for years was used by Peter Snow. Although Jeremy Vine does a decent job with the new technology available now.

I am also a huge admirer of David Dimbleby, who only recently retired. Yet I’ve always wondered, what is he on? He must be on caffeine injections or something, because come, say, 4am, while I’m still gripped, I am failing and nodding off in my chair, desperately trying to keep my eyes open. But there, in the studio, is Dimbleby, well into his 70s, looking as fresh as a daisy. How he does it, I have no idea.

George is impressed by David Dimbleby’s stamina on election nights.

I won’t give in to bed, not until a party leader declares defeat, or a party crosses the finish line and victory is declared.
I even wait for the markets to open at 8am and see what the result has done to sterling and shares. Then I succumb and fall into a coma for a few hours.

I get up around midday, more coffee, and spend most of that afternoon taking in more analysis and reading various newspapers, especially if the result was unexpected and big scalps were taken.

By evening I am a mess. I eat a meal, drink some wine and go to bed proper. Only two days after the election do I get back into normality.

However, hold the front page! For I’ve just been informed, as I write, that it looks like there won’t be an all-night election coverage this year, due to Covid restrictions. I’m

Ah well, at least I’ll get a good night’s sleep next Thursday night. I’ll still need to clear my diary for the Friday though, as that will be a long day of watching out for the results and hopefully good analysis.

So, we go to the polls next week. Maybe you have voted already, by means of a postal vote. I think many more have done so this year, due to fears over Covid and crowded spaces, etc.

As a columnist and not a reporter, I get paid to give an opinion, so I am well within my remit to tell you who I am voting for and why I think you should do the same. But I’m not going to. My vote is between me and the ballot box. And your vote is your business.
What I will do though, is to urge you to VOTE.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie on the campaign trail.

The turnout at the 2016 Scottish parliament elections was, believe it or not, an extremely poor 55.8%. That is shocking in a democracy.
It is not an exaggeration to say that past generations fought and died in order for us to have a democratic vote. Women in particular fought and struggled in order to just be allowed to vote.

Sadly, these days, we seem to take our right to vote for granted. Big mistake. Millions around the world are today still fighting and some dying in order to have a legitimate say on who governs them.
All I can say regarding our vote is this: “If you don’t use it, you may well, one day, lose it.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in the Scottish Parliamentary election.

Wherever you plan to put your X next Thursday, please do so.
And for anyone who thinks it’s pointless and that their vote doesn’t count – it does. Majorities can often be wafer thin. Your vote counts.
One thing is for sure, your vote most definitely won’t count if you don’t use it.