Referendum countdown: Mary’s sure it’ll be alright on the night

The votes have been cast, the counting is over and Mary Pitcaithly has made the momentous announcement on Scotland’s future.

Wednesday, 17th September 2014, 10:30 pm
Chief Counting Officer Mary Pitcaithly will make the official announcement of the result in the Scottish Independence Referendum

Her hope in the hours, days and indeed years to come, is that people, whatever their political allegiance, will reflect on a democratic process which was smoothly run.

As Scotland’s Chief Counting Officer she will be the one telling the world which side has secured the majority of the votes and with it determined the country’s future for generations to come.

Looking forward to that moment, she said: “I want everything to go smoothly on the 19th with the focus on what the result is and not how we got it.

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“The aim is for a smooth democratic process where everyone who wants to vote can vote, People may not like the result, but they will know that the process to achieve that result was a robust one.”

The comments are made by someone with a vast experience in local government and Scotland’s electoral process. As chief executive of Falkirk Council for the last 16 years she has also been the returning officer making the announcements of voting results at council, Holyrood, Westminster and European elections for this area over that period.

As a veteran of Scotland’s e-counting fiasco of 2007, when several counts had to be suspended on the night and more than 140,000 ballot papers had to be rejected – she visibly shudders at the memory – Mrs Pitcaithly has seen the country’s electoral system face it’s toughest days.

However, none has been so talked about or captured the public’s imagination as much as the Scottish Referendum.

“It’s been a very interesting time,” she admitted. “Fairly time consuming and, at times, quite challenging, but there’s been no nonsense or huge difficulties.

“My role has been to provide some sort of direction and leadership for people who basically know what they are doing. Most returning officers and their staff are very experienced. It’s about providing a framework and degree of assistance.”

In 2006, because of her experience, she was asked by Scotland’s Regional Returning Officer Tom Aitchison to join a small group who could assist him. In the years since then she has held a variety of roles and is currently convener of the Elections Management Board.

She added: “When the legislation for the Scottish Referendum was published and it said who would be the Chief Counting Officer, although I’d always realised it would be me, there was something very official about it.”

Her work with the Referendum has had to be juggled with her role as chief executive, where she oversees a workforce of around 7500 and a budget of £350 million.

She said: “Everyone within Falkirk Council has been very helpful and seem genuinely interested in my Referendum role. Some have even said that it’s great for Falkirk, which is very kind.

“Whatever happens with the result, there will be an impact on everyone and we will have to plan for that afterwards.”

It’s certainly been a busy year, beginning with her only daughter Sarah’s wedding in the Spring, and when she reflects on 2014, Mary Pitcaithly hopes that her memories of the Scottish Referendum are of another smoothly run day.

“Yes, this year’s certainly involved a lot of planning for different events but I think that I will be quite happy to welcome 2015,” she admitted.