A CLOSE contest from the start, the campaign for the seat of MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries was finally taken by Scottish Conservative Alex Fergusson who will now begin his third term in 12 years as MSP in our area.
The former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament took the first Conservative seat in Scotland in the early hours of this morning.
With a majority of 862 over the SNP party’s Aileen McLeod, Alex took 11071 votes and was met with rapturous applause when he was declared the new MSP by returning officer Alex Haswell to an audience of hundreds in Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries. Stranraer’s Willie Scobie took 7954 votes and third place, ahead of back-runner Lib Dem’s Joe Rosiejak with a lowly 763.
The race was tight throughout the evening with the early verification process giving nothing away other than a voting turnout figure of 53 per cent - 30,120 from within a constituency of 56,611.
Earlier, Alex Fergusson had approached the prospect of election with trepidation having watched the verification process unfold before him.
When asked if he was quietly confident, he told The Gazette quite simply: “No. Perhaps carefully cautious. We have retained our current support, quite strongly in most areas, but we don’t think we did enough to sway newcomers to vote for us, looking at the papers here before us.”
However, after the announcement was made, he said: “I wasn’t absolutely certain I’d be standing here tonight when I saw what was happening in the rest of the country – and one can only say that the SNP are having an astonishingly good night.
“But I do think that once again we have pulled off a remarkable result here in Galloway and to be the last MSP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and the first for Galloway and West Dumfries is an enormous privilege and one I will bear responsibly. I must commend my opponents for a fairly run campaign, other than a few remarks by Willie early on about my personal circumstances – but he soon came round to my way of thinking.”
Waiting for the result and as news trickled through that Labour were losing seats across Scotland, Willie Scobie joined his opponents in observing the 595 ballot boxes arrive from across Dumfries and Galloway and be tipped out to check their authenticity, validity and legibility by diligent council staff.
Following the result he told The Gazette: “Of course I was hoping I could beat both the Conservatives and SNP but it was still a tremendous result for Galloway and West Dumfries as Labour have increased their vote by over 60 per cent, which is well above the others.
“I’m delighted with the support from the voters and now my job is to make sure Alex Fergusson is held to account for his term in office and best serves the people of Galloway - and not as the absent MSP we had last time.”
From early in the evening, SNP’s Aileen McLeod was nowhere to be seen in the hall until after 2am when she emerged with quiet hope, fuelled by her party’s country-wide success so far.
With 500 staff in the hall and over 1000 region-wide, the tightly-run ship with Mr Haswell at the helm ran to schedule with only a few hiccups – one being rumours of a problem with new residents of Ailsa Gateway in Stranraer who had reportedly failed to register at their new regeneration addresses and were therefore turned away from the polling stations. This is as yet unconfirmed and will no doubt be fully investigated, but a council spokesman said on the night: “The residents of the new area will have been issued with new electoral register guidelines and it is entirely up to them to have registered themselves based on these.”
Wigtownshire councillor Graham Nicol, observing the buzz in the hall, said that early signs were of a sway from Labour to SNP but that his party, the Tories, knew it could come down to the line.
He said: “Where we have had strong support in the past, we are maintaining that and we’ll never take votes from Labour on any large scale. If they go anywhere, it will be to SNP and I feel that could be what is happening.”
As if to echo his words, the first seats in Scotland were announced and showed Labour’s loss in the first three constituencies of the night.
The sorting began shortly after 2am and in a change to the norm, ballots were divided into their respective candidates’ boxes by one team before being counted by another. Initial piles showed a heavy Conservative and SNP vote before Labour began to join in the running. Lib Dem’s Joe Rosiejak looked on as his table’s counters were kept less than busy, but a respectable vote still went his way.
As the count for both southern Scotland constituencies - Galloway and West Dumfries, and Dumfriesshire - came to an end at Easterbrook Hall, Mr Haswell called candidates and their agents to the side to contemplate unverified ballot slips. Derek Crichton, count table manager, explained to The Gazette that ballot papers which weren’t clearly marked as instructed were taken for ‘adjudication’ by a dedicated team who would decide, where possible, whether to award a vote to a candidate if there is an indication it was intended for one clear person. Those harder to call can be debated by the candidates post-count.
Following the announcement which will cement Alex’s position in Scottish politics for a further term, he handed over to Aileen McLeod who paid tribute to her campaign manager, Alasdair Morgan, whose retirement from politics was marked by the election.
She added: “The result here shows a substantial increase in SNP votes which is indicative of the good work being carried out by the party. Although we lost this seat here tonight, we look set for returning to government which is the best possible result for Scotland.”
Joe Rosiejak joked: “I made two bets today – firstly, that I would come fourth and I won that. Secondly, that the returning officer would pronounce my name incorrectly, and I won that too. “
He finished his speech with: “To the people of Galloway, you’re one of the best. You have a lovely area – cherish it.”
Galloway and West Dumfries County Constituency
“I, Alex Haswell, being the Returning Officer for the Scottish Parliamentary Election for the Galloway and West Dumfries County Constituency, hereby give notice that the total number of votes polled for each Candidate was as follows:-
Name of Candidate Description Number of Votes
Alexander Charles Onslow FERGUSSON
(commonly known as Alex Fergusson) Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party 11071
Aileen McLEOD Scottish National Party (SNP) 10209
William Joseph ROSIEJAK
(commonly known as Joe Rosiejak) Scottish Liberal Democrats 763
(commonly known as Willie Scobie) Scottish Labour Party 7954
Alexander Charles Onslow Fergusson has been duly elected to serve as the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Galloway and West Dumfries County Constituency.
The number of ballot papers REJECTED and not counted by me at this election was as follows:-
Want of official mark and unique identifying mark 0
Voting for more than one candidate 22
Writing or mark identifying voter 101
Unmarked or void for uncertainty 0
Total votes cast - 30120
Total Electorate - 56611
Percentage poll - 53.21%