Around the land, candidates of all political hues are stepping forth this morning with hope in their hearts, whether of hanging on, securing a glorious victory or avoiding humiliation. Their fates are pretty much sealed and judgement awaits. Being a candidate on polling day can be a solitary business.

As the results come in tonight, they will be measured in gains, losses and swings. There will be little acknowledgement, for understandable reasons, of the human factors each declaration will entail – careers ended while others are being launched; the upheavals in family circumstances; the joy of anticipating a new job or the fear of sudden unemployment; exhilaration or deep disappointment.

For candidates who face uncertain outcomes - and there are loads of them in this election - this is all deeply personal as well as political. As they go about their business today, probably kidding themselves on that it will make a last minute difference, their thoughts are almost certainly elsewhere. What, they wonder, will the morrow bring?

Brian Wilson with his Labour colleagues in 1987 who won Scottish seatsBrian Wilson with his Labour colleagues in 1987 who won Scottish seats (Image: free)

Serious contenders are, of course, in the minority. For most candidates among the 4515 who are standing, being elected is a far-fetched option but they too form an essential part of the democratic fabric. Elections give minorities the right to be heard and offer alternatives to voters for whom making a statement may be a higher priority than the choice of MP.

I became quite adept in far-off days at explaining the case for voting for a candidate (i.e. me) who was most unlikely to win. No vote for what you believe in is a wasted vote, I would say. There is always the future to think of so it’s important to maintain a reasonable base, I would say. To this day, I only recommend tactical voting as an option rather than an obligation; a matter for individual judgement and conscience.

Being a candidate doomed to defeat can still be an exhilarating experience. The most carefree campaigns I participated in were ones where I had absolutely no expectation of winning, so just enjoy it. The first of these was in Ross and Cromarty where I had been press-ganged into standing at short notice by my old friend, the writer Allan Campbell McLean.

“Comrade”, he declared, “you are to be the candidate” and that was pretty much that. I had three great weeks of highs and lows, with lots of laughs and absolutely no tension. The ridiculous idea that six weeks are required for a General Election campaign was yet to catch on and should be dispensed with.

When polling day dawned, the sun was ablaze so we eschewed the towns of Easter Ross and headed west, stopping at tiny polling stations where they hadn’t seen a candidate since Gladstone’s day. Allan maintained that the real Highlands didn’t begin until you got beyond Garve and there was really no need to fight for every last vote in Dingwall! It was a polling day to remember.

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I learned at this early stage that being a candidate is a privilege which should never be taken lightly. By standing, you put yourself in a position of asking people to entrust you with that most precious democratic commodity, their votes. There is a reciprocal obligation of being willing to listen and capable of arguing your case in a coherent and respectful manner. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be standing.

For the duration of a campaign, candidates have an unusual level of access to workplaces and all sorts of other facilities which make communities tick and most folk might not otherwise see the inside of. At election times, people want to share their stories and concerns, regardless of parties or prospects. I lost three (Highlands) and won four (Ayrshire) contests but always found election campaigns great learning experiences.

Maybe I was the last politician in Scotland who believed in the duty to hold public meetings around the constituency, which came to be regarded as an eccentricity. It didn’t matter how many attended, I used to maintain, the important point was to offer voters the opportunity to hear and question. The party workers thought I was daft and even I had to admit defeat when nobody except the janitor was turning up.

Yet I still regret the passing of that traditional election meeting which sharpened wits and sometimes put theatre into politics. Where in the campaign now ended were spontaneity or humour to be found? If a candidate could not hold his or her own at a packed public meeting, he or she was unlikely to make much impression in the House of Commons. It’s a democratic loss that this testing-ground no longer exists.

Those who put themselves forward as candidates should be ready for the school of hard knocks. My Liberal opponent in Ross and Cromarty was a diminutive Edinburgh advocate who sported an Inverness cape and a goatee beard. This was not what the traditional Highland Liberal vote was accustomed to.

Rishi SunakRishi Sunak (Image: free)

When the ballot boxes were being opened at the count, I happened to be standing beside him as the votes from Applecross spilled out and it became apparent that there was not a single X beside the Liberal’s name. “Even my own committee has voted against me”, he reflected bitterly. It was a lesson which I (obviously) haven’t forgotten - that political life can be cruel, and there are times to be gentle with opponents!

As today wears on, the tensions will rise. Even candidates who know they haven’t a chance will briefly persuade themselves that there just might be a way to win before realism reasserts itself. Once counting begins, hopes will quickly be raised or dashed. When bundles of votes start to pile up on trestle tables, they will not deceive and the judgement of the people will become apparent.

At that point, there will be no avoiding the personal question – is it back to the day job on Monday or does a brave new future lie ahead? The next 24 hours will decide.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.