Wards Worth Watching: Shetland Islands

Wards Worth Watching takes a look at what could be some of the most interesting contests across Scotland this May, based on past election results. No claim is made that these are the only possible changes that will occur, nor that other wards aren’t interesting. Some possible outcomes will be impacted by party decisions as to number of candidates and whether incumbent councillors choose to re-stand or not.


By far the most northern (and eastern) part of Scotland, Shetland is even more renowned than Orkney for the Nordic influence on its identity. Non-Shetlanders will probably be pretty familiar with Up Helly Aa, a festival of fire (and Vikings) held every winter. Folk are also usually keenly aware of the strong ties to the oil industry. Most of the population live on the mainland island, and about half of those in Lerwick.

In political terms, Shetland is part of that combined Westminster constituency with Orkney, that should it ever be won by anyone bar the Lib Dems may indicate sub-zero temperatures in hell. At the Shetland-only seat for the Scottish Parliament the Lib Dems have proven similarly resilient, though the 2021 election saw it become a marginal against the SNP. Anecdata from the 2015 UK election suggested whilst the Lib Dems had a strong lead in Orkney, the SNP had led in Shetland – so whilst the joint constituency may be a watchsign for the apocalypse, Shetland alone may be shakier.

Throughout recent history Shetland, like other islands, has been majority Independent, but it’s also had periods of other strong local groups. Labour tended to be well represented through the 80’s, and from the late 80’s the autonomist Shetland Movement had a sizeable group. By the late 90’s the Lib Dems were winning a fair rake of seats too.

Previous STV Elections


All 22 seats were won by Independents. The Lib Dems stood in a single ward, where their two candidates placed 4th and 6th out of 6. The Scottish Socialist Party stood in 2 wards, coming 5th of 6 and 5th of 9. And the Conservatives stood in one ward, coming 4th of 9.


All 22 seats were won by Independents. The SNP contested 2 wards, coming 4th of 7 and 6th of 7. The Scottish Christian Party also contested 2 wards, coming last (6th and 4th) in both.


Only 21 seats were won by Independents! The other seat, well, it wasn’t won, but it went to the SNP. They stood one whole candidate and by sheer chance it was in the one ward where no election took place as there were only as many candidates as seats to fill. Meanwhile, the Conservatives stood in 2 wards, coming last (4th) in both.

Wards Worth Watching

The sea between the mainland and Yell is officially considered part of the ward boundary. I’m sorry. Please don’t shout at me. I do not draw ward boundaries or make the shapefiles for them.

General Comments

Due to the largely Independent nature of the islands, I’m afraid Shetland ends up a bit of a cop out from a Wards Worth Watching perspective! As a sole nerd in Glasgow, it’s just not possible for me to be aware of the intricacies and personalities involved in every council in the country, which in most cases doesn’t matter too much given the substantial weight of party politics.  In the Islands, however, it means I’m flying largely blind. A little bit more detail and nuance may however be available from the dedicated Shetland Elects Twitter account run by a native islander.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of things I can make you aware of. First is that there have been some boundary changes under the provisions of the Islands Act. These have led to Shetland gaining an extra councillor, for a total of 23. That’s come from Shetland South expanding at Lerwick South’s expense and gaining a fourth seat, without Lerwick South losing one. At the same time, Shetland Central has absorbed some of the previous Shetland West, creating a 4 and 2 member ward, respectively, out of what was previously two 3 members.

Secondly, it looks like there’s going to be a lot more party presence here this time. At the time of writing only the Greens have announced candidates, but having done so for three wards so far means that’s as many party-political candidates as stood at all in 2017. Given the highly personalised nature of island elections, it’s not impossible they could get a weel-kent face elected, following in the footsteps of Orkney. Perhaps surprisingly, Shetland was the party’s best constituency in the region last year, winning 9.7% of the vote. Though there are no names as yet, I’d be surprised if the SNP and Conservatives don’t stand at least a couple of candidates too, who could similarly manage surprise victories.

Update following close of nominations: The Conservatives are in fact absent, this being one of just two councils where that’s the case. Instead, Labour are contesting (or rather, uncontesting) one ward, the SNP are in 2, and Greens in 3. No Lib Dems or Alba, making Shetland one of just 4 missing councils for both parties. More details here.

The situation with uncontested wards worsened in Shetland this year. Shetland North went uncontested, electing Independents Emma Macdonald, Andrea Manson and Labour’s Tom Morton. Meanwhile, North Isles was undercontested, with two Independents in Duncan Anderson and Ryan Thomson elected, and a third seat remaining vacant. That will prompt a by-election in due course.

Shetland South (4)

2017 Councillors: Duncan (Independent), Smith (Independent), SNP.

As mentioned earlier, Shetland South has expanded in this election, gaining a fourth councillor from adding Gulberwick to the ward. Also as mentioned above, not a single vote was cast here in 2017, as only three candidates stood for the three seats available then, and thus were deemed automatically elected.

That means we have no idea how popular the SNP councillor actually was. If he’s standing again, he may benefit from having built up profile through this term and be easily re-elected. Or, it may have been a weird fluke, and the ward goes fully Independent. This is also one of the wards the Greens have confirmed for, so whilst I haven’t put them as potential winners on the map, bear in mind the general uncertainty surrounding party candidates in the islands.

Updated following close of nominations: Shetland South is contested this time, but it’s again guaranteed to return at least one party political councillor. The SNP and Greens are facing off against three Independents, only one of whom is an incumbent, meaning one of them is getting in – and it’s quite possible both could.

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