Though we had the excitement of two by-elections yesterday, I’m going to cover the results of each separately – partly because I’m waiting for South Lanarkshire to make the full suite of documents available! So, let’s start with the big one – the Scottish Parliament by-election for Shetland. Prompted by the resignation of an original 1999 MSP and former leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, Tavish Scott, the islands were given their turn in the spotlight – and a deluge of activists filling up their summer holidays. Given the Lib Dems historic dominance in the Northern Isles in general, I was pretty certain the seat would remain in their hands.
That certainty was vindicated with clear Lib Dem win, on a margin that wouldn’t have been a surprise a few weeks ago but felt like one by this point. Although I stuck quite firmly to my “the Lib Dems in the Northern Isles are as eternal as cockroaches and Cher” guns the whole time, the level of SNP campaigning had me privately expecting it could be quite close, within 5%. Perhaps that has to do with the spread of the vote- anecdotally, a source conducting sampling at the count tells me the vote in Lerwick was extremely close but the Lib Dems had a very clear lead in rural Shetland. Whilst I don’t doubt both major parties sent canvassing teams across the isles, it’s natural the Lerwick feel would be the one external observers might pick up. Anyway, votes in full;
- Lib Dem – 5659 (47.9%, -19.5)
- SNP – 3822 (32.3%, +9.3)
- Ryan Thomson (Ind) – 1286 (10.9%, +10.9)
- Conservative – 425 (3.7%, -0.1)
- Green – 189 (1.6%, +1.6)
- Labour – 152 (1.3%, -4.6)
- Michael Stout (Ind) – 134 (1.1%, +1.1)
- Ian Scott (Ind)- 66 (0.6%, +0.6)
- UKIP – 60 (0.5%, +0.5)
- Peter Tait (Ind) – 31 (0.3%, +0.3)
Comfortable hold though it was, the Lib Dem vote did drop substantially in the more crowded field, whilst the SNP’s 32.3% was both substantial growth for them and the highest vote share any competing candidate has achieved in Shetland. North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson also put in a very creditable showing, being the only other candidate to win a double-figures vote share and indeed to hold his deposit. The Conservatives holding completely static took me a bit off guard, coming as it did on the day of leader Ruth Davidson’s resignation. They may not have had many votes to lose, but as Labour’s truly abysmal result shows, there’s always further to fall. Notably this is only the second time in a Scottish constituency that the Greens have come ahead of Labour – the other being in their absolute strongest seat of Glasgow Kelvin in 2016.
Although we didn’t have a Brexit Party candidate in this one – so far posted missing in Scotland since they did well in the European elections – leaving the EU clearly wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds in an area with an above Scottish average Leave vote. UKIP perhaps suffered both for their having been eclipsed and for literally flying in a candidate from Falkirk, whose first visit to the isles was to submit his nomination. And I can’t resist pointing out that Peter Tait, the candidate standing on a quite bizarre platform of returning the home base of the Monarchy to Scotland (what) and repealing the Act of Settlement (arcane, but at least somewhat sensible) came dead last, though, hey, 31 people agree.
This result puts Holyrood right back to where it was before it was called, though Beatrice Wishart adds some much needed diversity to the Lib Dem Lads in time for business resuming next week. With a full Holyrood election looming in less than two years time, I hope everyone enjoyed the excitement of this by-election because it’s unlikely we’ll see another one this term!