THE votes have been counted, the astonishing results are in, and GE15 is finally over. But what was the campaign trail like from the inside?

One reason I fell in love with my constituency – East Lothian – is that it is a microcosm of Scotland, with its new housing estates, old mining villages, rolling farmlands, high-tech factories, sheep-dotted uplands, and stunning sea coast. It is also a massive 270 square miles of real estate to canvass. My Tory opponent solved the problem by hiring a light aircraft and flying over the constituency trailing a banner proclaiming his virtues and the need for financial austerity. He also issued a stern dress code to his campaign supporters that when standing outside polling stations they should not wear riding boots.

Winston Churchill, always a great source of quotes, claimed the best argument against democracy was spending five minutes with the average voter. I certainly don’t go that far. I suspect Churchill was just grumpy because, on his very rare visits to his Dundee constituency, he was continually shouted down at public meetings by citizens frustrated at his lack of interest in local affairs. Nevertheless, a candidate soon realises voters have a bewildering variety of personal reasons for deciding where to put the cross on the ballot paper – and long may such democracy thrive.

For instance, I decided to enliven my election literature with a cartoon drawn by this paper’s very own Greg Moodie, Scotland’s most incisive and deliciously satirical cartoonist. I could see the eyes of my campaign team rolling at this hostage to fortune. After all, the whole point about political cartoonists is that they are licensed jesters and you don’t tell them what to draw or say. In fact, Greg produced a most wonderful drawing that seemed to me to encapsulate our political message – without making me look too weird. Inevitably, during the course of the campaign, I got several irate voters come up to me in the street and say they were not voting SNP specifically because of that “insulting cartoon”. Fortunately, there were 25,000 East Lothian voters who thought otherwise. But if I’d lost by two votes, Greg.

One rite of passage for the candidate in any election is the obligatory hustings with the other parties. Actually, the advent of television (as news and entertainment) virtually killed off the traditional hustings in much of Scotland until the independence referendum reinvigorated participatory democracy. Public meetings to debate serious political issues are now popular. We had more than 300 people turn up at a Women for Independence event in Haddington, complete with Elaine C Smith and Lesley Riddoch, during GE15.

The traditional hustings, in which each candidate answers unseen questions from a local audience, is more sport than enlightenment – and all the more fun, for that. The reason is that most of that audience is likely to be made up of partisans from the rival political parties, bent on catching you out with a well-crafted googly of a question. Because each candidate stands an equal chance of being caught out, a weird Stockholm Syndrome results. After surviving a few hustings more or less intact, the rival candidates start getting friendly and huddling together for mutual support.

In East Lothian, there were seven of us. This led to a private game in which we decided who among us represented each of the Seven Dwarves. (I will take the answers to my grave.)

We also had a competition to see if we each could weave a nominated word into our set speeches. Sadly, the latter game proved abortive as a couple of my fellow candidates lacked the gene for not taking themselves too seriously. I exempt my Labour rival, Fiona O’Donnell, from that stricture. She was grace under fire and one regret I have about winning is that she (as an individual) had to lose.

Election campaigns are canine affairs. Dogs play a central role in meeting the voters. Knock on a door and you instantly set off the canine alarm system at full volume. Invariably, size of Fido and the volume of his bark are in inverse proportions. Canvassing in a tenement stair results in the maximum bark decibel count, as one household pet’s excitement triggers a response from his doggy friends in neighbouring dwellings. But that is only the start of it. A lot of political discussions on the proverbial doorstep – you know, about squeezing the current but not the capital account, that sort of thing – are conducted with the householder desperately trying to stop Fido escaping into the outside world. I have had many a chat with a voter who was bent in two, clinging to Fido’s neck, while a gleeful infant child utilised his parent’s contortions to make their own bid for freedom.

I like dogs but in any campaign it is certain that a doggy constituent will try to sample the flesh of volunteers delivering leaflets. To be truthful, dogs are neutral regarding which political party to taste. The more the merrier. Fortunately, in my East Lothian campaign this year, only one of my volunteers needed stitches. Thanks, Jim, someday a grateful Scotland will present you with a special Purple Heart medal.

Talking of animals, East Lothian has a huge rural and agricultural hinterland. So rather than kiss babies – which I leave to Nicola Sturgeon – I got to kiss Clydesdale horses. The thing about horses is that they are… well, huge. And they are also very intelligent. So when they look you up and down, you know this is one voter not to try to bamboozle. Mind you, the picture I posted on my campaign Facebook page of me and the Clydesdales got a huge number of hits. I recommend a horse media event to all aspiring politicians.

For the candidate, the day of the actual election is a bit of an anti-climax. You have done your job and now it is time for the campaign team and hundreds of self-less volunteers to get out the vote.

In fact, the nervous candidate can be a liability on polling day by trying to interfere or micro-manage. So I took myself off to tour East Lothian’s 39 scattered polling stations. The prize for best polling place anywhere was in the tiny village of Spott, where the Hobbit-sized stone booth (built for the watchmen who protected the parish cemetery from grave robbers) served a new, democratic purpose.

And so to the count in Haddington. The moment the ballot boxes were opened and the first voting papers bundled, it was apparent the SNP had won, ending nearly half a century of Labour domination in East Lothian.

Unless a contest is very close, you know quite quickly what the result is going to be. Unfortunately, there then ensues many hours of candidate purgatory while the actual counting is done. Time to prepare that victory speech – or practice grace in defeat.

Today, I’m on the plane to London for my first shift at Westminster as MP for East Lothian. Election over? Nope: next week the countdown to the Scottish Parliament contest will begin. You can expect another avalanche of election leaflets through your door anytime soon.