“SO were you still up for Portillo?”

You need to be a politics geek of a certain age for that phrase to mean anything. But yes, 24 years ago this month I was indeed “up for Portillo” – i.e. still awake watching the TV coverage in the early hours of the morning as Michael Portillo, one of the highest-profile cabinet ministers in John Major’s Conservative government, lost his seat in the Labour landslide that was the 1997 General Election.

A lot has happened since then – not least that I’ve evolved from an enthusiastic, bright-eyed teen into an early-40s Grumpy Old Man who greatly values the amount of time he spends asleep at night. In fact, for the last UK election I was sound asleep an hour before the polls closed, knowing I could still wake up long before the Argyll and Bute result was announced.

Happily that was not an issue last week, since the election authorities in Scotland decided long ago that as a Covid safety measure, counting of the votes in the Scottish Parliament election would not happen overnight.

This election was unlike any that have gone before – for everyone, not just me. But what made it different from our point of view was that this was the first time we’d run a live blog covering the local counts, and results, as they happened.

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Along with my excellent colleagues at their (home) desks and at the count in Clydebank, we spent just over 11 hours updating readers of the Advertiser, and our sister papers, the Dumbarton & Vale of Leven Reporter and the Clydebank Post, with all the latest news, first from the Clydebank and Milngavie seat and then in the Dumbarton constituency.

What helped in no small measure to keep us going – apart from adrenaline and lots and lots of caffeine – was the high profile of the Dumbarton result in particular. As the results rolled in through the day it was increasingly clear that what happened in the Dumbarton seat, the most marginal in the country five years ago, might be crucial in deciding whether the SNP secured an overall majority.

And so it transpired. The SNP, as we all know now, ended up with 64 seats, one short of an overall majority, so the Dumbarton outcome was indeed crucial. Yes, you could make a similar argument for any one of the other seats the SNP hoped to win and didn’t. But, as you would expect, I’m biased in favour of our patch – so I like to think it was voters in the Dumbarton seat, and Helensburgh and Lomond in particular, who had a more vital say than most.

Not for me to say whether that’s a good or bad thing, of course. But while my youthful enthusiasm may have deserted me a while ago, I don’t mind admitting that it was hugely exciting to be in there at the heart of things as they happened. Though no drink has ever tasted quite as good as the (small) glass I poured after it was all over...

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