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How many teachers does it take to cast a vote?

For Crawford Langley, director of legal and corporate services in Aberdeen, read Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Langley is doubling for a few weeks as deputy returning officer and was perfectly placed to handle a question from the awkward squad at last week's education committee.

Labour's Jim Lamond, in the interests of unemployed constituents who could well staff the polling stations for a few bob, enquired about the number of teachers likely to be employed. "There are not as many as previously," Langley replied during a lengthy discourse.

Lamond tried again. "But how many?" Sir Crawford Appleby was off again into the deepest recesses of the English language, finally confessing the numbers were "at the margins". Labour's Bob Middleton, a veteran cynic, chipped: "Do you know now, Jim?" Jim Wyness, education convener, bailed Sir Crawford out of the Byzantine wrangle: "It's round about so many. That's the best you're going to get."

One-nil to the deputy returning officer. The issue, however, was not finished. The Liberal Democrats' Pamela MacDonald rose to the teachers' defence in rural areas where their contribution was particularly welcomed on polling day.

"They are the only ones that can read and write," quipped another Labour voice.

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