By-Election Preview: Shetland West 17th of November 2022

Ward Profile

Cause of By-Election

Spare a thought for the good folk of Shetland Islands Council’s elections team, who seem destined not to get any rest this year. Even before May’s elections were out of the way they had a by-election in the pipeline due to an under-nomination in the North Isles ward. No sooner had they got that out the way than newly elected Shetland West Independent councillor John Leask announced his resignation. Leask had only been elected for the first time in May, but he cited changes in his other job as his reason for stepping back.

Ward Details

Shetland West is one of 7 wards in the Shetland Islands, and elects 2 councillors at a full election. As the name implies, this covers the western lobe of Mainland Shetland, including settlements such as Aith, Walls and (behave) Twatt. In addition it also includes the smaller islands of Papa Stour and Foula, which have a collective population below 50. Previously a larger 3-member ward, in this year’s boundary changes it lost a stretch down from Weisdale through Kalliness and the peninsulas flanking Stromness Voe to Shetland Central.

For elections to the Scottish Parliament the ward is within the Shetland Islands constituency which has been held by the Lib Dems since creation, though it became a true marginal against the SNP for the first time last year. For the UK Parliament it’s within the joint Orkney and Shetland constituency which is likewise a Lib Dem stronghold. I’ve often said in the past that if the party lost that seat, it’d be a sign of the apocalypse.

Electoral History

Shetland being Shetland, this ward has been exclusively represented by Independent councillors since STV was introduced in 2007. At the first election that trio consisted of Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson and Florence Gains. Gains didn’t re-contest in 2012 and was replaced by Theo Smith. In 2017 only Smith returned, with Robertson retiring and Robinson being unseated, as Steven Coutts shifted from the North Isles ward and Catherine Hughson came in fresh.

In May, none of the incumbents re-contested the truncated ward – Coutts and Smith stood down, whilst Hughson stood in the redrawn Shetland Central. That resulted in two newcomers, Liz Boxwell and the soon-to-resign John Leask, picking up the seats. Given turnover in Independents and the fact party candidates only stood for the first time this year, it’s not worth doing a vote share over time chart for the ward.

Councillors and Key Stats

2 Councillors, in order elected:
Independent: Liz Boxwell
Independent: John Leask
Change vs 2017: -1 Independent (decrease of one seat due to boundary changes, elected Independents replace retiring Theo Smith and Steven Coutts)
Turnout: 56.5%
Electorate: 1364
Valid: 758 (98.3%)
Spoiled: 13 (1.7%)
Quota: 253


Independent: Liz Boxwell
Independent: Peter Fraser
Independent: Andrew Holt
Independent: John Leask
🟢Green: Debra Nicolson
🟡SNP: Zara Pennington
Independent: Mark Robinson
Independent: Ian Tinkler

First Preferences
Transfers (single winner recalculation)
Two-Candidate Preferred



Back in May, it really stood out that the two-seat Shetland West ward ended up with a very busy ballot paper whereas the three-seat Shetland North and North Isles wards didn’t even muster up a contested election. For the by-election however there are only three candidates, all of whom are returning from May’s ballot. As the Green and SNP candidates are returning, we’ve got a very rare Islands by-election where party candidates outnumber Independents, though that Independent was May’s runner up.

🟢Green: Debra Nicolson
🟡SNP: Zara Pennington
Independent: Mark Robinson


At the full election Robinson only lost to Leask by less than 1% of the vote, and when re-calculating that result for a single winner without either of the successful Independents, he beats the Greens’ Debra Nicolson by over 30%. He’d have similarly beaten the SNP’s Zara Pennington by 33%. It’s fair to say then that he’s the clear favourite to win. However, there are a large number of non-transferrable votes and by-elections in the islands can deliver surprises. I’m therefore opting for likely rather than just outright saying it’s going to be an Independent win, though I would be very surprised if it isn’t.


Likely Independent.

2022 Results (Detailed Data)

Transfers (full election)
Results by Polling District

Due to the small size of the ward and its polling districts, no districts exceeded the 200 votes necessary to be recorded individually. As such, this chart simply shows the separate totals for in person and postal votes.

Second Preferences
Shetland West: Two-Candidate Preferred
Shetland West: Two-Party Preferred

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