By-Election Preview: North Isles (Shetland) 4th of August 2022

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

As was the case with June’s pair of by-elections to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, this by-election for Shetland’s North Isles ward is unfinished business from May’s full election. Shetland had two wards that went uncontested, and whilst neighbouring Shetland North at least got a full complement of councillors, North Isles only filled two of the three seats available. That led to incumbent Independents Duncan Anderson and Ryan Thomson being automatically returned to office, whilst leaving a vacancy to be filled in short order.

Ward Details

North Isles is one of 7 wards making up Shetland, and elects 3 councillors at a full election. As the name implies, it covers a number of smaller islands to the north of Shetland’s main island, foremost amongst them Yell, Unst, Fetlar, Whalsay and the Out Skerries. These are the absolute northernmost reaches of both Scotland and the wider UK, sitting further north than neighbouring Norway’s capital Oslo. 

Two councillors were very nearly good enough for this ward, as initial proposals for new boundaries emerging from the Islands Act would have removed Whalsay and the Out Skerries. They’d instead have been in a new “Shetland North East, Whalsay and Skerries” ward, tying them to the portion of the Shetland mainland the local ferries connect to, and leaving Yell, Unst and Fetlar as a two member ward. This proved unpopular in the consultation however, and the existing ward was retained.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament, the ward is obviously part of the Shetland Islands constituency, held by the Lib Dems since it was created – albeit it became a true marginal against the SNP for the first time last year. At the UK Parliament, the joint Orkney and Shetland constituency has likewise been solidly Lib Dem for decades.

Electoral History

In typical Shetland style, all previous elections to the ward have resulted in a clean sweep for various Independents. At the last election in 2017 however it was a completely fresh batch, as none of 2012’s crop stood for re-election.

(Note: Duncan Anderson appears to have stood as Duncan Simpson in 2017)

If we look at vote shares from that last election, we can see that Anderson and Thomson were both popular enough to be elected on first preferences alone. Of course, that’s no guarantee they’d have been elected at a contested election this year, but it does suggest they could have expected a decent amount of support so it’s not like they stumbled onto their seats by sheer accident as a couple of other councillors did in May!



In keeping with past tradition, and despite the Greens and SNP contesting multiple wards in May, it’s an entirely Independent ballot, with five such candidates on offer. Particularly notable is Gary Cleaver, who served as a councillor for the ward from 2012 to 2017, winning 21.6% of first preferences then. There are also two returnees from May’s election, with Stewart Douglas having contested Shetland South, whilst Marie Williamson had been on the Lerwick North and Bressay ballot.

⚪Independent: Gary Cleaver
⚪Independent: Stewart Douglas
⚪Independent: Sonia Robertson
⚪Independent: Robert Thomson
⚪Independent: Marie Williamson


Independent WIN, obviously. As I so often have to say when covering the Islands though, I couldn’t tell you which Independent – I’m one man running this project because I enjoy it, whilst holding down a day job, so I just don’t have the capacity to dig for local nuances in these cases. This is the kind of thing the highly specialised Shetland Elects account, run by an islander, may have a bit more useful to say about. Regardless of who wins, they’ll finally complete the business of electing Scotland’s (initial) crop of councillors for the 2022-2027 term.

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