North Isles (Orkney) By-Election, 01/10/2020

NOTE: This by-election was delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and may be re-scheduled again at short notice.

For the first Scottish by-election since they all ground to a halt in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’re taking a trip to Orkney. Initially we also expected two further by-elections on this date, but those have since been delayed a little bit further. Unfortunately, this one was prompted by the death of councillor Kevin Woodbridge. He’d only been elected for the first time at the 2017 election, but had strong local roots as a GP on North Ronaldsay.

North Isles is one of 6 wards making up Orkney Islands Council, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. As the name implies, the ward covers all of the islands to the North of the Orkney Mainland. Chief amongst these are Westray and Sanday, which have populations of almost 600 and 500 respectively. Stronsay, Shapinsay, Rousay and Eday also all have populations in the hundreds. There are then another half-dozen islands below that, of which only Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay are named on the map below.

At both the UK and Scottish Parliament level, the overall Orkney area is a historic Liberal Democrat stronghold. They’ve held the Orkney and Shetland Westminster constituency for decades without interruption, and the Orkney Holyrood constituency since the parliament was set up in 1999. Jim Wallace, Scotland’s first ever Deputy (and Acting) First Minister represented both of these constituencies for a time. However, remember that at Council level, Orkney is overwhelmingly Independent.

No changes to this ward since 2007, which has been represented entirely by Independents at every election. No incumbent councillor has ever been defeated in that time, but in both 2012 and 2017, one of the sitting councillors stood down and was replaced by a newcomer. Councillor Graham Sinclair has been the one constant councillor since 2007.

For this by-election, not only are there three Independents to choose from, but there’s a surprise Labour candidate in the form of Coilla Drake. That’s certainly the first time Labour have stood for the Council since at least 2007, which is an interesting quirk. Of the Independents, Heather Woodbridge stands out given the name, and is in fact the daughter of the late Councillor. The full list of candidates is:

  • Daniel Adams (Independent)
  • Coilla Drake (Labour)
  • Claire Stevens (Independent)
  • Heather Woodbridge (Independent)

As this is an Islands council, the usual re-calculation of 2017 isn’t worth bothering with, as literally none of the nominated candidates were on the ballot then. The first preferences per candidate are provided in the chart below for information.

Despite the presence of a Labour candidate, I’m inclined to suggest it’s almost certain the ward will be won by one of the three Independents. I can’t say for sure which, since I’m not an Orcadian, but I have been told that the younger Woodbridge is the favourite to win. Local informants have been accurate for BBS when it comes to Independents in the past, so let’s see if that record holds up.

Call: Independent Win