By-Election Preview: Stromness and South Isles (Orkney) 28th of March 2024

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

In a country absolutely spoiled for choice with incredible surroundings, we’re off to to the particularly fine corner of Scotland that are the Orkney Islands for this vote. Stromness and South Isles councillor James Stockan announced his retirement at the beginning of the year, which triggers an Islands by-election that’s always that little bit harder for Ballot Box Scotland to preview. Stockan was first elected in 2003 to the old First Past the Post Stromness North ward, including parts of the town on both sides of the harbour.

His resignation didn’t just lead to this by-election, it also prompted a hunt for a new Orkney Islands Council Leader, a role he had held since it was created since 2017. Prior to that point, the council hadn’t had “political” leadership, perhaps due to its Independent bent. Heather Woodbridge, his successor as leader, may be familiar to dedicated followers of BBS as she was the winner of a 2020 by-election to the North Isles ward. Woodbridge therefore becomes not just the first woman leader of Orkney, but also the youngest council leader in Scotland. 

Ward Details

Stromness and South Isles is one of 6 wards in Orkney, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. Stromness is Orkney’s second largest town, with a direct ferry connection to Scrabster on the Scottish Mainland – a very nice ferry it is too and much less, ahem, unsettling for one’s stomach than the longer Aberdeen ferry.

That ferry takes you past Hoy, geographically the largest of the “South Isles” within the ward, famed for its dramatic sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy. Hoy is joined by causeway to South Walls, and the two are statistically counted as one island, with the fifth highest population in the archipelago. The only other inhabited islands are the much smaller Flotta (home to an oil terminal) and Graemsay, both of which have below 100 residents. The remaining islands of Cava, Fara, Rysa Little and Switha were historically inhabited, but haven’t been for a number of decades now.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is entirely within the Orkney Islands constituency which has been held by the Lib Dems since 1999. At the UK Parliament it’s within the Orkney and Shetland constituency that has likewise been Lib Dem held since time immemorial. Liberal dominance here is so entrenched that only 17 years since 1900 have seen the seat represented by a non-Liberal, and none since 1950 when it was won by Jo Grimond, one of the party’s very few MPs and its leader during many of its wilderness years. I continue to be of the opinion that the day anyone bar the Lib Dems win this seat is the day you make your peace with whatever deities you may believe in, because the end times have come.

Electoral History

This ward hasn’t ever seen anything but Independent councillors, but it’s managed a whopping 8 of them in that time. That means, given the need to keep consistency with the 2022 result charts below, some of the colours here are completely outwith the usual BBS brand guidelines! The only constant across this period has of course been Stockan himself.

In 2007 he was joined by Ian Johnstone, likewise a sitting councillor for the prior Sandwick and Stromness Landward ward, plus newcomer John Eccles. Neither of them stood in 2012, meaning it was Rob Crichton and Maurice Davidson joining Stockan in the ward. 2017 brought a completely uncontested election, which saw Magnus Thomson replace the vacating Crichton. Given the ability to actually vote on their representatives again in 2022, voters chucked both of the non-Stockan councillors in favour of Graham Bevan and Lindsay Hall. As an aside, it certainly appears on the surface that the ward has yet to elect a woman despite all of this turnover.

Looking at the voting pattern over the period, and I’m sorry that this is largely a chaos of dots with only a few lines, this is Independent-centric politics for you! Stockan was clearly the most popular option at every election, even managing to win an absolute majority of votes in 2012. However at the last election, whether due to the other options on the ballot or his tenure as council leader, he dipped to his lowest share yet, albeit still very comfortably in front.

Although parties are not the norm in Orkney, you’ll see they haven’t been completely absent here. In 2012 the SNP made a big show of standing in every council area in Scotland for the first time since STV, though they amounted to little across Orkney. At the same time, this was the only ward in Orkney UKIP contested that year, to even less success. After the 2017 gap year, the only party on the ballot in 2022 were the Greens, who having clearly bedded into the council since winning a seat in 2017 did comparatively well for a partisan outfit in Orkney, making it quite easily into double figures.

Councillors and Key Stats

3 Councillors, in order elected:
Independent: James Stockan
Independent: Graham Bevan
Independent: Lindsay Hall
Change vs 2017: No partisan change (Graham Bevan and Lindsay Hall defeat Rob Crichton and Magnus Thomson)
Turnout: 51.8%
Electorate: 2233
Valid: 1150 (99.4%)
Spoiled: 7 (0.6%)
Quota: 288


Independent: Graham Bevan
🟢Green: Maia Brodie
Independent: Rob Crichton
Independent: Lindsay Hall
Independent: James Stockan
Independent: Magnus Thomson

First Preferences
Two-Candidate Preferred



Literally just two Independent candidates for this one, the Greens seemingly having chosen to sit this one out. Magnus Thomson is looking to get the seat he was given uncontested in 2017 and lost in 2022 back, whilst Janette Park would be the first woman elected in the ward if she’s successful.

Independent: Janette Park
Independent: Magnus Thomson


One of those two candidates will win. That’s it, that’s all I have to say! For the most part, Ballot Box Scotland manages as a national project run by one person because whilst there are local nuances everywhere, most of the country still follows clear partisan patterns that can inform predictions. The Islands are the most obvious exception to that and without being local I simply cannot say which of the pair has the best shot at it.


Independent win. Obviously.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District
Second Preferences

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