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Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire MP Angus MacDonald read about former US President Barack Obama’s campaign ahead of general election victory

By Andrew Dixon

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By Angus MacDonald, new Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire

Angus MacDonald read about campaigns by former US President Barack Obama (inset).
Angus MacDonald read about campaigns by former US President Barack Obama (inset).

Just past midnight early last Friday morning the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall was full of hundreds of people counting the general election ballots for the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross plus Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire constituencies. The counting agents from each of the candidates were poised with clipboards noting numbers as the votes came in.

I was told later that one particular moment there was a distinct change in atmosphere. A concerned SNP team went off in a huddle to discuss what they were seeing, one staffer in tears. The big TV screen in the hall beginning to show massive constituency loses by the SNP. By 2.30am my result was clear and my agent rang me to report that it was looking good and I should come to the count.

Who is Angus MacDonald? Profile of Inverness’s new MP in his own words

Inverness’s new MP: Vision for the Highlands + key issues

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross was announced first, the Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone had massively increased his majority, taking 49.4 per cent of the vote, almost double that of the SNP. By then, all could see the blue boxes each with 500 ballots lined up under the candidates names - I had four more than [SNP candidate] Drew Hendry.

To everyone’s surprise the Highland Council’s chief executive Derek Brown, the returning officer, ordered a recount due to an unexplained ‘discrepancy’ in numbers.

At the end of the recount I still had the same number of boxes on the shelves. However the electoral team still wasn’t happy, and a third count was announced for Saturday morning.

PICTURES: How the count chaos night unfolded as political rivals were forced to accept a recount

Drew Hendry first announced that he could not attend the Saturday recount and late Friday evening issued a message conceding that he had lost.

Tension in the hall on Saturday was high, with both the SNP and Lib Dems bringing in legal advisers, plus the Electoral Commission sending a supervisor. A painstakingly slow count finally finished late afternoon with the result we had all expected. As the last in the UK to be announced all the media were interested, I was giving interviews late into the night.

Initially, I was selected to fight against Ian Blackford, who was at the time the leader of the SNP group at Westminster, for the seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. But Blackford lost his job as their Westminster leader before announcing he wouldn’t stand again, the boundary was changed by the Electoral Commission to merge most of Ross, Skye and Lochaber with Inverness city, and Drew Hendry the Inverness MP was anointed as the SNP candidate.

I have given it my all, running it like a military campaign. Starting 18 months ago, I spoke to experienced politicians and read books on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, raised the funding needed, put together a team, planned our canvassing schedule, worked out our literature and social media plan, and met the press to introduce myself.

So, just what will the candidates vying to win the Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire seat do for us? We asked them what their top three priorities are, if elected

WATCH: Run the Gauntlett - My different approach will get things done says businessman and Liberal Democrat candidate for Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire Angus MacDonald

I always felt I was a viable contender against the SNP on the west but in Inverness the Lib Dems had only won 10 per cent of the vote versus the SNP’s 48 per cent in the 2019 general election. Inverness was a massive 62 per cent of the electorate.

We were ready for the election when it came, with a volunteer list of 140, our first leaflet already printed and orange diamonds for lampposts ready to go, giving us a two-week start on the other parties. Before the election had been called, we had already knocked on 30,000 doors out of the 45,000 in the constituency over the previous year. With the Conservatives in power for 14 years and SNP for 17, the voters in the Highlands felt it was time for a change. I was the change candidate.

When the election was called, the bookies were offering odds of 25/1 against me winning, and all the national polls had me behind even the Conservatives and Labour. We felt this was completely wrong, feedback on the doorstep seemed really positive for me. Perhaps the SNP were caught napping, complacent, thinking their previous huge majority meant they had the result in the bag.

I have enjoyed most of the campaign - canvassing is fun, people are almost all nice and happy to chat. Hustings are aggressive however, they are not suited to my nature, and comments on social media can be really unpleasant. I have been involved in lots of business crises, served in the army in conflict zones and the birth of four sons but I can say this last six weeks has been the most exhausting and tense period of my life.

I have been fantastically supported by Peter Winnington-Ingram my friend, and agent. Aonghus Ferguson, from Plockton, and Declan Gallagher along with many many others. A huge thank you to them and all those who voted for me.

Now the work begins, I would be proud if my epitaph read: ‘Angus MacDonald, he served those of us in the Highlands well.’

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