Birthday! Polling day 06.05.1999. The First election for the brand new Scottish Assembley
Yes! It's the Big Day! My alarm rings at 5am sharp
.Today is the day that I work for a full thirteen hours as a Presiding Officer at the Polling Station in the Cowgate. I am situated right in the heart of the Old Town in Edinburgh.
I rest in my bed for a further half hour. I have watertight childcare plans in place. This much is familiar ground as I am the solitary mother of two girls.
My elder daughter will be taken care of in the flat downstairs from me by my ever helpful neighbour, Paula. I have a tendency to take her for granted and with hindsight I do apologisePaula, I'm sorry!!
I then board a taxi to Bruntsfield with Helen and park her with Wilma, the childminder that I pay a fiver an hour for. I walk to my Polling Station, the place that once I go in I am duty bound by election rules not to leave until our ballot boxes are picked up after 10pm when the polling ends.
The weather has reverted to Scottish. Arthur's Seat is shrouded in haar and a steady rainfall is threatening several hours of continuous down pour. Or, as Heather the Weather so often tells us on STV 'there will be a few showers, some of them on the heavy side.'
My workplace for the day is normally the Cowgate Nursery. It is situated near the clock tower at the far end of the Cowgate, leading to Holyrood Park Road. Inside the building there three separate district stations working side by side. With help from the Information Officer for the station and with additional help from my Polling Clerk we set our section of the Polling Station up for the day.
We place the ballot papers on top of our desk and we position our information notices for the voters so that they hang down from the desk in the correct places and in the correct way.
By the way I am not wearing any Party colours as I have been warned against doing so in the Instruction Manual for Presiding Officers. If I remember right I am wearing black and grey but I cannot recall if I am wearing my timex with the faux gold expandable band or if I am sporting my old pink Swatch.
There are, in fact three elections taking place today at every polling station in Scotland. The local council elections are on white ballot paper. The election for the Members of Parliament who represent their consituenciy in Westminster is on purple ballot paper. And by far the longest ballot paper of the three is peach coloured. It is the ballot for the new Members of the Scottish Parliament, our New MSPs.
Help! I'm a wee bit bit lost and I supposed to be in charge here at least of my own patch of responsibility. Is the new place a Parliament or an Assembly?
All I know is that the building is still under construction and the voters here in Lothian Region have seventeen options to pick from when selecting their MSP. Oh and by the way for those of us who are crudely disposed in our views, MSP does not mean Male Scotch Pigs We can vote for women if we like and I am certain that each and every electoral candidate is a human person.
Six fifty nine am
Ready, steady go!
There is not a big queue outside. My polling station gets one person after ten minutes. The station next door to us gets a few more people. One of their voters tries to put her ballot papers in our ballot box. 'Oh no, we can't have that!' I tell her to walk around the chairs in the middle of the room that divides the station and to go back to the boxes on her side of the room. 'Some carry-on' she says.
I explain to everyone that the three papers match the three ballot boxes each of which have a piece of the corresponding coloured paper stuck on top of the box. I need to do this because everyone asks me ' Do I put all my papers in the one box?'
The next three hours
It is very quiet here. It is still pouring with rain outside and our voters are soggy and wet even though they are all wrapped up as best they can.
I start to get to know my work crew - the two other Presiding officers and the three Polling Clerks. None of them works in a school or a library.
Although I have not done this job before, I reflect on the fact that I have probably got the more senior and better paid position because I have a university degree? How would I feel if the boot was on the other foot?
However there does not appear to be any resentment or envy within the ranks. I think the polling clerks are all students. My clerk worked for a year in Africa for no pay before returning to Scotland. She told me that she got used to living on a local porridge called 'posho'. I do not think I could have coped with this way of life in a country that was wholly strange to me. She is friendly; younger that myself and stronger. I think she may be a trainee medic.
One voter who lives in the High Street says to me. 'I'm not voting for the Witchery Tour. They're the ones who make all that noise at night.'
The Witchery tour Party is probably not going to get elected.
A small step for Scotland. But a giant leap for the Cowgate Polling Station. The Number One Presiding Officer - not me it is one of the other two - goes into the kitchen to make the coffee!