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Why did it take so long for Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire election result to be announced?

By Val Sweeney

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The election count takes place at Dingwall.
The election count takes place at Dingwall.

Questions are being asked about why it took so long to declare the Inverness, Skye and West Ross-shire constituency result in the General Election.

It was the final result to be announced in the UK late on Saturday afternoon 44 hours after the count began and following a second recount.

Lib Dem candidate Angus MacDonald was finally announced the winner with 18,159 votes - a majority of 2160 over the SNP's Drew Hendry who got 15,999 votes.

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The result had originally been expected at about 5am on Friday but following a recount, the candidates were told the votes would need to be counted again on Saturday morning.

Highland Council refused to give answers to a series of detailed questions but provided a statement on behalf of the Returning Officer Derek Brown.

It said: “There was a discrepancy between the verified votes total and the provisional number of counted votes.

“This was resolved and a declaration was made.”

It added: “As is standard practice, a debrief will take place.”

But as the count continued on Saturday, party workers from across the political spectrum voiced their frustration amid concerns over transparency while members of the public took to social media describing it as an “embarrassment” and “shambles”.

As the result was announced, Derek Brown apologised for the delay.

"I am truly sorry,” he said. “It has been a long couple of days."

Winning candidate Angus MacDonald said tension in the hall on Saturday was high, with 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,” he said.

Highland councillor Duncan Macpherson, who attended the count, had absolute confidence in the final figures announced.

But he felt a report needed to go to the next full council meeting, or the next audit and scrutiny committee meeting.

“I and my constituents would welcome a full explanation of what happened, and the course of events which triggered this” said the Inverness South councillor.

“I think it needs to be made public.”

He pointed out the result for the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross seat, which was won by Lib Dem Jamie Stone, took place at the same venue - the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall - and was announced in the early hours of Friday.

“There were two counts in one hall,” he said.

“One side of the hall got it so right. The other side appeared to get it wrong.”

Drew Hendry’s election agent Jill McAlpine said the delayed election result due to recounts was an extremely frustrating situation for all involved.

“That said, we ended up with a verified result and we are confident that everything that could be done to ensure the recount was a fair process was done,” she said.

She thanked the Returning Officer and the Highland Council team for their work under difficult circumstances from dealing with an unexpected election to the postal vote fiasco.

“Myself, Drew and the entire SNP team are grateful for their hard work over the election period and during the long and exhausting count days, along with the emergency services and security staff who were on site throughout the duration,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “We were in contact with the Returning Officer at Highland Council to provide guidance, and an Electoral Commission representative attended the count on Saturday. “Any questions on the count process should be directed to the Returning Officer.

“We will be undertaking research with voters and electoral administrators to understand their experiences and will publish a report on the delivery of the election.”

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