Orkney & Shetland

2015 Result:
Conservative: 2025 (8.9%)
Labour: 1624 (7.1%)
Lib Dem: 9407 (41.4%)
SNP: 8590 (37.8%)
UKIP: 1082 (4.8%)
MAJORITY: 817 (3.6%)

Category: Marginal Liberal Democrat seat

Geography: Scotland, Highlands and Islands. The whole of the Orkney and Shetland council areas.

Main population centres: Kirkwall, Stromness, Lerwick.

Profile: Orkney and Shetland covers two groups of Islands to the North of Scotland and, after the Western Isles, is the second smallest seat in terms of electorate. Orkney is about 10 miles north of the Scottish mainland and is a group of 70 islands, 20 of which are inhabited. The largest is Mainland, which includes both of the towns in the Orkneys, Kirkwall and Stromness. To the north, Shetland is an archiapelago of around 100 islands, 14 of which are inhabited. The only town is Lerwick. Industry includes sheep farming, crofting, fishing, crafts and more recently oil transportation. The two largest oil depots in Europe are situated on Flotta in the Orkneys and at Sullom Voe on Mainland island in the Shetlands and provide a major source of employment.

Politics: Orkney & Shetland is one of the most reliable Lib Dem seat in the country, having returned Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs since 1950, including former Liberal leader Jo Grimond. In 2015 it was the only Scottish Lib Dem seat to withstand the SNP tide. In the Scottish Parliament Orkney and Shetland return separate MSPs, both Liberal Democrats, since 2011 their only constituencies in the Scottish Parliament.

Current MP
ALISTAIR CARMICHAEL (Liberal Democrat) Born 1965, Islay. Educated at Islay High School and Aberdeen University. Former Solicitor. First elected as MP for Orkney and Shetland in 2001. Government deputy chief whip 2010-2013, Secretary of State for Scotland 2013-2015. Carmichael is seen as being on the left of the Liberal Democrats and has argued against the party moving towards market liberal policies. Resigned from the frontbench 2008 to support a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. After leaving government he admitted lying about having leaked a diplomatic memo about Nicola Sturgeon and faced a legal challange to his election.
Past Results
Con: 2032 (11%)
Lab: 2061 (11%)
LDem: 11989 (62%)
SNP: 2042 (11%)
Oth: 1222 (6%)
MAJ: 9928 (51%)
Con: 2357 (13%)
Lab: 2511 (14%)
LDem: 9138 (52%)
SNP: 1833 (10%)
Oth: 1903 (11%)
MAJ: 6627 (37%)
Con: 3121 (19%)
Lab: 3444 (21%)
LDem: 6919 (41%)
SNP: 2473 (15%)
Oth: 776 (5%)
MAJ: 3475 (21%)
Con: 2527 (12%)
Lab: 3775 (18%)
LDem: 10743 (52%)
SNP: 2624 (13%)
Oth: 996 (5%)
MAJ: 6968 (34%)

2015 Candidates
DONALD CAMERON (Conservative) Advocate.
GERRY MCGARVEY (Labour) Born Falkirk. Educated at University of Kent. Parliamentary assistant.
ALISTAIR CARMICHAEL (Liberal Democrat) See above.
ROBERT SMITH (UKIP) Fisherman. Contested Orkney and Shetland 2010.
DANUS SKENE (SNP) Born 1944, Dundee. Educated at Sussex University. Teacher. Contested Kinross and West Perthshire F1974, O1974 for Labour, North Tayside 1983, Moray 1987 for Liberals.
Comments - 542 Responses on “Orkney & Shetland”
  1. I haven’t seen anywhere that supports that claim except SNP assertion? I think it would have probably been the other way round.

    I have come across tables for the regional list votes broken down into seats and it shows that the SNP won Orkney on list votes, but we held Shetland.


    I don’t know if this is accurate but it is but looking at these results I think that we will lose Orkney, but should hold in Shetland if we factor in the likely tactical voting for the constituency vote.

  2. The idea that Shetland is better for the SNP is largely based on the slightly less terrible result for Yes there in the referendum. I’d have thought that Tavish Scott’s personal vote would counterbalance that, leaving the two seats equally likely to switch. Using 2011 figures for the constituency vote is pretty pointless given the independents that stood then and are unlikely to stand again this year. In short, we’ll probably just have to wait till May to see what happens here. Predictions are no more tha guesswork.

  3. I was using the list vote for exactly that reason but I take your point.

  4. A considerable amount will depend upon who stands in the Orkney and Shetland constituencies in May, as Simon’s comments recognise.

  5. In Shetland, much will depend on what happens to the Independent Billy Fox’s vote of 2,845 (30.3%).

    A 35% lead over the SNP is still quite considerable in the context of the 2011 Holyrood elections, which next to the General Election last year was clearly the SNP’s second best.

    On the other hand, the 10.6% lead over the SNP in Orkney must offer Liam McArthur little comfort.

    Last May, the SNP must have won in Orkney given that the Lib Dems were over 20% ahead of the SNP in the Westminster constituency at the 2011 Holyrood elections yet under 5% last May. That’s swing of over 7.5% between 2011 and 2015, enough for the SNP to take out Liam McArthur.

    To hold on, Liam McArthur would need to poll more strongly than Alistair Carmichael did last May. The polls do not suggest that he will and Carmichael conduct over the Sturgeon/ French ambassador did not come into question until after people had voted at the general election. Carmichael actions are more likely to damage Liam McArthur than himself.

  6. You’re ignoring the 2011 independent candidates, and who they may have taken votes from, which makes your analysis pretty meaningless.

    It would seem likely that, as with everywhere else in Scotland, SNP support is highly correlated with the Yes vote in the referendum. There may be smallish variations due to personal votes and local factors, and the Lib Dem vote may be affected by the scores of the other parties, but there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that one seat is more likely to be retained by the Lib Dems than the other.

  7. Agree with Simon. I think that Orkney is better ground for the Liberal Democrats over Shetland.

  8. Was Simon not arguing that Shetland and Orkney are equally vulnerable to the SNP?

    I’d fancy Tavish Scott to hold over Liam McArthur, although that’s purely on the assumption that reputations of being a good MSP mean something on the Northern Isles. Indeed, if he holds, he’s my tip for Presiding Officer, should the SNP return to the convention of rotating the position around the parties. I struggle to say anyone in the Conservatives or Labour who could command respect from across the chamber and who don’t have designs on frontline politics.

    Moreover, given the 2011 vote share of the independents in these seats, we are likely to see one of this year’s largest swings come in Shetland, where the SNP need a swing of around 18% to take the seat, and you’d imagine they’d get somewhere near there. Of course, if the Greens snatch 2nd in Glasgow Kelvin, they might also be a candidate for biggest swing.

  9. I think they’re probably pretty close on their likelihood of changing hands. I could believe Tavish Scott would have a larger personal vote than average, but I don’t have the local knowledge to know for sure. My own guess is that Shetland is naturally slightly better for the SNP, but that Tavish Scott’s higher profile roughly cancels that out.

  10. My thoughts are that Orkney is better for the Lib Dems. The two islands are almost uniformly identical in terms of voting, although with a high turnout in mind the 2011 SP election isn’t much to go by on which seat is preferable for the party.

    I remember rumours following the General Election which suggest that Shetland went SNP, but there’s little to go on.

    The political culture on Shetland and Orkney are so alien to me that it’s really anybody’s guess, but my money’s on Orkney.

  11. Take care about “rumours” about how election results broke down, particularly when they are put about by nationalists.

    If we believed every rumour circulated about the independence referendum we would believe that more or less every single ward in Scotland voted Yes, based on the say-so of some cybernat who claims to have been at the count.

  12. Yes, although an SNP win in either council area is credible given the marginality of the results. It will be interesting to see how the islands vote this May.

  13. I firmly believe that despite the strong Lib Dem presence in both Orkney and Shetland, the two councils will just return ‘leave’ votes in the upcoming EU referendum. I imagine both will return the highest ‘leave’ margins in the Scottish council areas.

  14. It will be interesting to see whether the LibDems hold the Orkney and Shetland seats in the Scottish Parliament elections.

    Am I right in thinking that the challenge to Mr. Carmichael in the courts collapsed, but that LibDem managers have admitted that they would have had difficulty in holding the seat if it had come to a by-election?

    Back to history. In 2001 the libDem percentage of the vote appears to have been very slightly lower than in 2015, but the oppostion to the LibDems was more evenly split, so the LibDem majority was larger.

  15. The SNP only need a 2% swing to gain Orkney and Shetland, which in a by-election contest would have been achievable, especially on a lower turnout.

    But it is not clear how much Carmichael’s misdemeanour damaged him amongst the electorate, as opposed to the well-funded group of SNP activists who tried to have his election overturned. While he did not come out of the court case well, I don’t know how the affair played amongst the residents of Orkney and Shetland.

  16. Maybe I am stereotyping a place I’ve never been to and live 800 miles away from, but I suspect elections in Orkney and Shetland are largely fought on very local issues and personalities. That would probably have been true of any by-election, and will be of the Scottish Parliament election.

  17. i wonder how far the Orkney and Shetland elections will be fought on local issues this time given the European Referendum. And how will the propensity of people here to vote “Leave” sit with their historic tradition of voting LibDem?

    Are the Scottish Parliament candidates for Orkney and Shetland this time going to be the same as those who were elected last time?

  18. As I’ve mentioned before the politics on Orkney and Shetland are so alien to me that it would not surprise me in the slightest if the referendum vote here follows completely different dividing lines from elsewhere in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

    I have no clue how the vote will go this May. Applying the mainland logic to the isles would suggest that Orkney will go to the Lib Dems and Shetland to the SNP, although the personal politics of the isles will no doubt have a huge impact on the results here. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Shetland, Orkney or both Shetland and Orkney return Lib Dem MSP’s in 2016. I would be very surprised if the two go SNP, unless the results are very close to the mark.

  19. Liam McArthur (Orkney) and Tavish Scott (Shetland) are both standing again for the Lib Dems. Danus Skene, who was the runner-up in May, is standing for the SNP in Shetland.

    The elections will likely be fought mostly on Scotland-wide themes, as was the case in May last year. All politics is still national right now.

    I doubt Europe will be a huge issue in May – there’s not that much disagreement between the political parties here on the issue. UKIP have no real appeal, and even most of the Scottish Tories are for remain (at least among their elected representatives). I think views in the more remote parts of the country will have changed significantly since 1975. Certainly, in the past, if not so much any more, the Highlands got quite a lot of EU structural funds. Also, a lot of the more right-wing Euro-scepticism (the Farages of the world, and a good chunk of the pro-leave Tories) sound completely alien from a Scottish perspective. If I had to guess, I’d imagine that the various groups of islands in Scotland will all end up being relatively comfortably for remain.

  20. @ Simon – elections on the isles are still very local, even the referendum on independence was fought around more local grounds compared to elsewhere in Scotland here too.

    I understand that Tavish carries a very strong personal vote up in Shetland (Liam less so in Orkney) – this could have a substantial impact on the results in the area.

    The personal politics of the Highlands and Islands is still very strong, even with the SNP’s rise to power, for example:

    – 2014: Highland going completely against the grain at the independence referendum (with breakdowns provided by the Yes camp suggesting a concentration of the Yes vote around Skye, Lochaber and Inverness, and huge No votes in areas like Thurso, Sutherland and Ross despite similar demographics).
    – 2015: Charles Kennedy holding a strong Personal Vote in his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency, holding the SNP back by an impressive margin (of just 1% since the referendum) compared to elsewhere in Scotland.
    – 2015: Scottish Christian’s holding their deposit in Na h-Eileanan an Iar with a vote share of 6.6%.
    – 2015: Orkney and Shetland returning Scotland’s only Lib Dem MP.
    – 2015: Orkney and Shetland having largest UKIP vote in Scotland – followed by Moray.
    – 2015: Moray having the lowest swing to the SNP.
    – 2015: Lib Dems receive more votes compared to 2010 in Argyll and Bute – which had one of the smallest “swings” to the SNP/Greens since the referendum.

  21. I wouldn’t be so confident in measuring the isles politics compared with any other part of Scotland.

  22. I’d agree that I’m less confident predicting about Orkney and Shetland than most of the rest of the country. That said, as with virtually everywhere else, the SNP vote ran slightly ahead of the Yes vote. As with most seats that the Lib Dems defended, there was significant unionist tactical voting in their favour.

    Some of the points you made are hardly surprising. For example, that Moray had the lowest swing to the SNP – as a relatively unionist area with a previously high SNP vote, then that’s what you’d expect. Similarly, I’d expect someone like Charles Kennedy – able politician, not keen on the coalition, has appeal to left of centre voters due to Iraq, to do better against the SNP than most.

    Incidentally, looking at UKIP – they lost their deposit in O&S in 2015 unlike in 2010, despite the large advances the party made in England and Wales. It doesn’t really suggest that O&S is a hotbed of anti-EU feeling.

  23. I think the Common Fisheries Policy is a significant driver of support for Leave in Cornwall. It is possible that may be the case in O&S – and may not necessarily map very well on to GE vote. Though maybe the fishermen and women of O&S are more realistic than the people of Cornwall in realising that even after Brexit the government won’t just be able to lift all the restrictions on fishing and expel all the non-British boats (whilst British boats are still allowed to go elsewhere, of course).

  24. I wouldn’t disagree with that. I think fishing is probably the main sore point in rural Scotland’s relations with the EU.

  25. @ Simon – Or maybe it is his mammoth personal vote. They lost their deposit by 0.2%, but that is besides the point: there sits strong personal politics at the heart of voting in the Highlands and Islands, which has a much more substantial impact than elsewhere in Scotland.

    Here politics more follows the individual’s views and less demographic trends, which can explain the referendum results here.

  26. Although this personal politics is admittedly less strong in Moray, whose voting system is more akin to that of Aberdeenshire and the rest of Scotland.

  27. *and also Inverness, Helensburgh and Lomond.

  28. I’m unconvinced that the personal side of things has the same impact that it once did, especially post-referendum.

    If personal votes and so on do still matter a lot, I’d expect Scott to do better than McArthur. If the SNP do as well or better in Shetland than they do in Orkney, and the results are broadly in line with how you’d expect the SNP to do (ie Yes vote + a little) then maybe national factors are stronger, at least for now.

  29. I did not say that politics in the Highlands and Islands consist solely of personal politics, I am just saying that it still remains more substantial than elsewhere in Scotland.

    As with the General Election in 2015 I would expect this to come to fruition with a little less movement towards the SNP in Orkney and Shetland than elsewhere in Scotland, in addition to a potential saturation of the unionist vote more towards Tavish in Shetland than it was in 2015.

    Keep in mind that there will be no UKIP candidate in Orkney and Shetland in 2016: this may benefit the Lib Dems to a greater extent than the SNP.

  30. “I did not say that politics in the Highlands and Islands consist solely of personal politics, I am just saying that it still remains more substantial than elsewhere in Scotland.”

    Yes. My view is that the personal politics side of it is diminishing rapidly, and has been for a long time. I think that can be seen, for example, by the increasing encroachment of party politics in local elections. I think the referendum accelerated this process considerably, although it remains to be seen if that’s temporary or not.

  31. I’m relatively certain that one of the two Northern Isles constituencies will fall to the SNP at this May’s Holyrood election.

  32. @ NTY

    I think your analysis of how Shetland and Orkney will vote in two weeks time is missing one important detail.

    Sure, Shetland looks to have been stronger for the SNP than Orkney, but Skene is based on Shetland, and would likely have had a better organisation there than on Orkney. The fact that Carmichael is based on Orkney probably wasn’t a big factor in and of itself, as his profile is large enough across the islands.

    However, in terms if the Shetland seat at Holyrood, it will be Shetlander vs Shetland-based, and Orcadian vs Orkney-based, where the Lib Dems have better Shetlander and Orcadian credentials than their challengers. Of course, that might be irrelevant. I have yet to find anyone, online or otherwise, with sufficient knowledge of the electoral actuality up there.

    Nevertheless, I think the first point in particular could go some way to explaining why the SNP fared better in Shetland than Orkney; an advantage that I don’t think applies to this year’s elections, as explained above.

  33. I’ll agree that I am pretty clueless @ PIEMONTEIS. The politics in Orkney & Shetland are alien to the rest of Scotland imo.

  34. Great article about the two Holyrood constituencies here in the Glasgow Herald –


  35. Well, there is Winston McKenzie who has been a member of Labour, the Lib Dems, Veritas, the Conservatives, the Unity Party, UKIP and the English Democrats and contested seats for most of them – and stood as an independent.

    And there are a fair few who have fought seats for Labour, the SDP and the Lib Dems.

  36. SNP Gain (Shetland).
    LIB Hold (Orkney).


  38. That’s a bit of a shock. Willie Rennie for First Minister it is then.

  39. Shows the real personal side of politics up there.

  40. You were completely wrong Simon, and so was I. Never been so happy 🙂

  41. So it would seem. That’s also an impressive display of tactical voting.

  42. Two results very similar. I guess we now know what most voters thought about the court challenge.

  43. Very interesting list returns in Shetland (see: http://www.shetland.gov.uk/elections/documents/SPRStatement.pdf).

    Breakdown as follows:

    Liberal Democrat – 3,937 (35.66%)
    Scottish National – 2,932 (26.56%)
    Conservative – 1,197 (10.84%)
    Labour – 1,003 (9.08%)
    Green – 736 (6.67%)
    Independent – 703 (6.37%)
    UKIP – 301 (2.73%)
    Scottish Christian – 116 (1.05%)
    RISE – 85 (0.77%)
    Solidarity – 33 (0.30%)

    Total Valid Votes: 11,041

  44. Clearly personal politics remains to have a profound impact on the Northern Isles.

  45. Would I be right in saying that Labour lost their deposit in Orkney? Surely that must be a first if true.

  46. Yes as did the Conservatives: a true indication of how remarkable the isles are politically.

  47. I hadn’t even noticed that with the Conservatives! That’s an absolutely incredible stat.

  48. A very interesting statistic here;

    Liberal Democrat vote for Orkney and Shetland;
    2015 – 9,407
    2016 – 14,536

    Within the space of a year the Lib Dem vote here increased by around a half despite no change in their national vote…

  49. Sore losers rarely do – witness the Westminster by-elections in Winchester in 1997, and Oldham East & Saddleworth in 2010.

  50. I doubt the trail had much of an impact on voting intention, the personal politics of the Isles seems to have played a bigger part in the result here (as evidenced by the much more mixed result on the list in Shetland).

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