It was late – Brexit late; People's Vote late. There must be something I can do I thought. Then I remembered an email that had come in earlier that day from 'Team Labour': 'Could you represent your region?' That was it. I should apply to be a Labour candidate in the European elections. I had tried to make a contribution by going on the People's Vote march until I looked up the price of a return train ticket to London and there was no way I was sitting all night on a bus even if it was free.
Tiredness evaporated as I began to fill in the candidate application form. The words just flowed as I answered all the questions. 'Labour is the party of social justice, equality and solidarity'; 'our campaign must be about the positive benefits for ordinary workers that flow from our membership of the EU'; 'Yes, I have excellent communication skills and have done my bit in the party over the years'.
There was a question about how we could win. I took the trouble to explain over a couple of pages how the D'Hondt method of party list proportional voting actually worked. I was a bit surprised the party had to ask! I got stuck on the one about why I would be a good candidate, then I remembered Henry McLeish had once called me 'quite promising' after my 'Reply to the Lassies' at a Burns Supper. At least I think that was what he said – there had been a lot of drink taken.
Actually, the question asking for 'your membership number' also caused a bit of a panic. I was fairly sure I had renewed my membership and was relieved to find my card at the bottom of a drawer.
My confidence was dented a bit a couple of days later when I got a message from Labour peer, Lord Fforde of Freuchie, who I had put down as a referee. It read 'Have been contacted by the party asking for a reference in support of your application to be a candidate. Think your account must have been hacked'. Anyway, that all changed a week later when I was informed I had been successful and had been placed sixth on the list of candidates (a list of six). When I inquired rather petulantly, why sixth, I was told that there had been 10 applications and four had been found to be less than fully truthful when they said there was nothing in their social media postings that could embarrass the party.
Three weeks into the campaign, I woke up in the middle of the night sweating. My rational mind had told me that Labour would win a couple of seats – maybe three but what if...?
What if... the Tory vote collapsed as a result of the absolute mess they had made of the Brexit process? There were rumours of the Tory doorstep canvassing script going something like, 'Can you spare a few minutes to shout abuse at me?'
What if... there was an epiphany moment when the country saw an Indyref2 causing a disaster of Brexit proportions?
What if... Labour suddenly seemed the only sensible option? Hadn't that nice Mr Corbyn been the epitome of reasonableness in negotiating with the government trying to get the country out of the Tory mess.
What if... Labour landslide – six seats for Scottish Labour? 'OMG' as I have never put it in my life. There was no chance of getting back to sleep now and in a few hours I would have to be up, getting ready for a long journey. The party had asked me to represent Labour at a European election hustings arranged at the last minute by the local council of churches in Thurso. Apparently, I was the only one of our six candidates free to travel to the most northerly town on mainland Britain.
By the time I boarded the Inverness train at Glasgow Queen Street, I still had an eight-hour journey ahead of me. The great thing about travelling by train is it gives you an opportunity to read and prepare. I switched the phone off and spread out my briefing notes before glancing through the morning paper. We were approaching Inverness as I grappled with the last few crossword clues. My mind was more focused on the second leg to Thurso and my speech started to take shape.
For Labour the EU debate has never been about constitutions and institutions but about our values of tolerance, solidarity, social justice, jobs, cooperation, peace and security. Of course, there is a pressing need to address problems with structures and bureaucracy as well as public apathy but the real challenge for Labour and all progressive voices is to articulate the advantages of a social Europe for ordinary people. Contrast this with the negativity and shambles of the Tory governments record and the inconsistencies of the SNP's position of supposedly supporting the UK's continued membership of the EU while wanting Scotland to leave its biggest market the UK – and therefore leave the EU.
As I reread my notes it all seemed good. I just hoped my sources were sufficiently obscure that no one spotted where I had lifted them from. The train drew into Thurso around 6.30pm, half an hour before the meeting was due to start. I hadn't been in Thurso since I was a student – Thurso the 'Energy Town', because of the Dounreay nuclear facility. Now it was more to do with its links to renewables. I got into the first Highland cab available and asked for St Peter's Church.
The ruins should have given it away. It was very unlikely a hustings was going to take place in a building with no roof and only one wall standing. By the time this sank in the taxi was gone and I decided I would have to leg it from Old St Peter's to the new St Peter's Parish Church over a mile away where I was now almost due. I had started out early that morning yet here I was arriving 10 hours later out of breath and five minutes late. As I composed myself outside, it started to dawn on me that there was absolutely no one there and the building was locked up for the night. Had I got the wrong night, should I be in Wick instead? God knows! There was nothing for it but to follow the directions on a crumbled sheet of paper in my pocket to the B&B I had booked.
I lay down on the bed absolutely exhausted, switched on the TV, then remembered my phone was still off. I had better contact the Rev John Calvin of St Peter's to find out what had happened. At that moment my eye caught the newsflash running across the foot of the screen on Sky News – 'Historic last-minute breakthrough sees parliament approve Brexit compromise – UK European Elections cancelled'. Well, that was that. The campaign trail had run cold in Thurso. Time for bed – but first an optimistic glance at Trip Advisor's 'Ten things to do in Thurso'.