Andrew Burns: Remember true heroes of election

The general election count at Meadowbank in 2010. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The general election count at Meadowbank in 2010. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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As most readers will be only too aware, there are now less than two weeks left until what looks likely to
 be the closest UK general election for a generation.

Many residents may actually have already cast their vote, as one of the more than 73,000 Edinburgh electors who now have a postal vote. The total number of registered voters, for the whole of Edinburgh is now more than some 347,000.

With a record general election turnout forecast, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that the smooth running of such an “election event” is a massive undertaking and involves a huge effort by many hundreds of dedicated public servants.

And it’s those “election heroes” – I’m most certainly not talking about the politicians, or the political parties here! – but the many hundreds of public-sector workers who make the election happen, that I feel rarely get the praise they deserve.

They make sure that the 145 polling places, right across the capital city, are fully staffed from 7am through to 10pm on election day, Thursday, May 7. Needless to say, many of them are there prior to 7am and beyond 10pm. And for the whole day, they guide electors through the process, and ensure all queries are answered politely and professionally.

That task, of itself, would be challenging enough – a possible 80-plus per cent turnout, at 145 polling places, of some 347,000 electors, for 15 solid hours – but after the polls close, yet more hundreds of mainly public-sector staff will be at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) to count all of the votes cast!

That process will go on well into the early hours of the morning of Friday, May 8. Hundreds of thousands – literally – of pieces of (very important!) paper need to be sorted, counted, verified and checked.

And many readers may well be aware that during that process, dozens of party members (from across the political spectrum) will be carefully scrutinising what goes on – physically looking right over the shoulders of the counting-staff. It’s a process which, as I’m sure you can imagine, does get tense.

Yet, in the numerous election counts I’ve attend throughout my 22 years in Edinburgh, I have never once – not once – heard a single complaint from a member of the counting staff about the detailed, and intense, scrutiny they come under. Indeed, I’m endlessly amazed at how calm, collected and polite they all are at 3am when someone asks them a vague and outlandish question about the process they’re undertaking! And this year, as has infrequently happened in the past, the whole process could have to be repeated if one of the five Edinburgh constituency contests is close, and a recount is required.

At the end of it all the results have to be agreed with the numerous political parties taking part; they have to be announced publicly to the waiting media; and – crucially – the whole process has to be seen as fair, thorough and professional . . . and the result thus accepted by all concerned.

Frankly, I’m amazed that year after election year – and we do have a lot of election years these days – that outcome is successfully achieved; and a clear result, which is accepted as fair by all concerned, is arrived at in the morning after the polling places close.

So – please – when you cast your vote, do give thanks to the hundreds of public servants who make the whole process run so smoothly. Do reflect on the scale of what they undertake – both on polling day, and throughout the overnight count.

For, without a doubt, it’s those staff who are the real election heroes.

Cllr Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council