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. Interesting, best UKIP result in Scotland.

  2. It was also one of only two constituencies where their vote share decreased rather than increased (the other was East Dunbartonshire).

  3. Here’s an idea @Simon, try comparing the referendum to the general election before making baseless assertive comments.
    The fact is that in respect to the Independence referendum, O&S experience the smallest move to the ‘Yes’ side.

    Orkney & Shetland:
    2014: 65% N
    2015: 62% N
    Change: 3%

    Aberdeen North:
    2014: 54% N
    2015: 57% Y
    Change: 11%

    Aberdeen South:
    2014: 64% N
    2015: 57% N
    Change: 7%

    Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine:
    2014: 66% N
    2015: 57% N
    Change: 9%

    Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock:
    2014: 55% N
    2015: 51% N
    Change: 4%

    Ayrshire Central:
    2014: 56% N
    2015: 54% Y
    Change: 10%

    Ayrshire North and Arran:
    2014: 52% N
    2015: 53% Y
    Change: 5%

    2014: 56%N
    2015: 56% Y
    Change: 12%

    Argyll & Bute:
    2014: 59% N
    2015: 56% N
    Change: 3%

    Banff & Buchan:
    2014: 50% Y
    2015: 60% Y
    Change: 10%

    East Renfrewshire:
    2014: 63% N
    2015: 59% N
    Change: 4%

    East Lothian:
    2014: 62% N
    2015: 55% N
    Change: 7%

    Edinburgh East:
    2014: 53% N
    2015: 55% Y
    Change: 8%

    Edinburgh North & Leith:
    2014: 60% N
    2015: 54%
    Change: 6%

    Edinburgh South:
    2014: 65% N
    2015: 62% N
    Change: 3%

    Edinburgh South West:
    2014: 61% N
    2015: 53% N
    Change: 8%

    Edinburgh West:
    2014: 66% N
    2015: 53% N
    Change: 13%

    2014: 50% N
    2015: 55% Y
    Change: 5%

    2014: 62% N
    2015: 52%N
    Change: 10%

    Kilmarnock & Loudoun:
    2014: 53% N
    2015: 56% Y
    Change: 9%

    2014: 56% N
    2015: 53% Y
    Change: 9%

    2014: 58% N
    2015: 52% Y
    Change: 10%

    Perth & North Perthshire:
    2014: 57% N
    2015: 52% Y
    Change; 9%

    2014: 60% N
    2015: 51% N
    Change: 9%

    Western Isles:
    2014: 53% N
    2015: 54% Y
    Change: 7%

  4. Where do you get referendum results for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, Central Ayrshire, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, and the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire seats? I’m not aware of any official data for these areas, and if they’re just your best guesses, then the whole exercise is a bit pointless.

    Also, you’re not comparing like with like. Three obvious factors that you should control for are the presence of a Green candidate, the level of referendum support and incumbency. For example, a very quick glance at your data suggests the SNP did substantially better than average in all the seats they were defending.

    A more straightforward, and accurate, way of looking at things is to say that the SNP across Scotland performed around 5% better in 2015 than the Yes vote did. In O&S, it was around 3% better, so the performance was slightly below average. If you take into account things like the historic lack of success in the area, meaning that the party doesn’t have seasoned, high-quality candidates (unlike most of the rest of the country), I think the result is broadly in line with what you’d expect.

    I have to say I’m getting to the point that I no longer feel there’s much point in responding to your posts. You seem to be looking for an argument, rather than actually trying to understand things. I’m pretty sure every time I comment on a Scottish seat, whatever I say, you’ll be along shortly to disagree. It’s kind of tedious.

  5. Carmichael is apparently going to have to give evidence at the election court. Initial attempts to have the case dismissed have failed.


  6. The SNP have done extremely well to avoid having the case thrown out….how is it possible for an election petition to be brought when the complainant wasn’t even a candidate in the election?

  7. Electors can bring petitions too.

  8. Many of your posts are rhetorical questions…why not tell us what you think.

  9. It impossible to say what things will be like in 5 years, there are too many variables. Just look at how things changed between 2010 and 15.

    1 – Will the SNP support (still) be at c.50% nationally after 13 years in charge in at Holyrood?

    2 – Will the LibDems have had a resurgence under Tim Farron?

    3 – Is the constitutional question still the priority or will other things become more important? (Quebec is a good example here).

    If the answer is yes to 1 and 3 and no to 2 they could well win this seat, however is different to one or more of the questions I think they will struggle to win it. Unless they have an amazingly popular local candidate.

  10. Sorry that last para doesn’t make sense it should read:

    If the answer is yes to 1 and 3 and no to 2 they could well win this seat, however if the answer is different to one or more of the questions I think they will struggle to win it. Unless they have an amazingly popular local candidate.

  11. Question for people in the now. What is the support like from O&S Lib Dems for Alistair Carmichael? Have any resigned, have their been any stories about them refusing to work with him, or is the membership focusing on the 2016 elections?

  12. I believe there was a poll conducted by the Shetland times which found most islanders want him to step down.

    The Shetland times also reported on the local party supporting Carmichael and urging him to stay MP for O&S, with the Liberal MSP for Shetland publicly coming forward to back him.

  13. I think Carmichael held on here in May almost entirely due to the fact that this seat had been ultra-safe in 2010. Had he not got that excellent result five years previously, I don’t think he would have survived.

  14. I wonder the Lib Dems beat the SNP in both the Holyrood constituencies of Orkney and Shetland as the gap within sum of the two constituencies was just 3.6%

  15. We’ll never know officially but I think Shetland went SNP and Orkney went Liberal Democrat.

  16. What is the latest on the court case? It all seems to have gone extremely quiet.

  17. Indeed. I do hope SNP mouths have stopped foaming (although they never seem to do).

  18. The judges are currently pondering the matter, I believe.

  19. I don’t think Carmichael’s actions had any impact on the outcome of the election. In effect his actions have purely made the situation for the LDem’s worse in their only Scottish constituency…

  20. It depends what way you look at it.

    If the story about N. Sturgeon and the French Ambassador hadn’t come out, the result of the election in this seat is likely to have been the same, as the story was largely discredited anyway and is unlikely to have persuaded voters not to vote SNP.

    However, if A. Carmichael had admitted to having released the story in the days prior to the election, it may have deterred voters from backing Carmichael due to a perceived lack of integrity.

    Nevertheless, although the result was tighter than expected, his majority was still over 800, so a large number of people would have had to be swung by any admission from Carmichael.

  21. Only it’s placed Carmichael in a position where there are calls for his resignation. His actions could have a negative impact on the Lib Dems at the 2016 SP elections…

  22. Thing is, do we actually have any non partisan local knowledge as to the response locally.

    I’m sceptical of the poll (where is it?) and the lack of local insight particularly frustrates me as I am genuinely curious as to the constituency reaction to the Carmichaelgate scandal.

  23. No we don’t have any local knowledge. The (somewhat lazy and stereotypical) conventional wisdom is that character issues are more important in the most remote seats, but that seems to be based on very little. The only opinion poll that was carried out on whether he should stay or not was Scotland wide, and most people surveyed thought he should quit.

  24. Court decision published at noon tomorrow. I believe there are very limited appeal options after this, so this is likely to be a final verdict.

  25. so when can we expect the by election?

  26. Losing their longest-standing seat will sap Lib Dem morale further and they need to go all guns blazing to attempt to prevent that

    There’s plenty of material for a classic Lib Dem negative campaign based on the performance of the SNP MPs in Westminster

  27. The National have a rather astonishing front page tomorrow… https://twitter.com/suttonnick/status/674348930268794881

    My best guess, reading section 106 of the RPA Act 1983 now, is that there won’t be a by-election but lets see.

  28. Just a thought: if there is a by-election here and the SNP win it then there will be as many independent MPs in Scotland as unionists.

  29. Suggestion is Carmichael has been cleared… which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

  30. Why doesn’t it surprise you?

  31. It is hard to conclude that Carmichael has breached section 106 of the RPA Act on my reading.

    Firstly, they would have to be able to say that he had made false statements ‘for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election’. I suppose you could say he did that, though his statement was not referring directly to Orkney and Shetland and so there is every chance the court will rule that he didn’t breach it.

    Even if they were to decide he had satisfied that term in s.106 there would be the question of does the clause actually apply to false statements about yourself? Lawyers would, as I understand it, look at:

    1/ Precedent – there is none.
    2/ Is the text clear? It isn’t.
    3/ What was intended when the Act was introduced? I haven’t looked but I expect the intention was to deal with false candidates about other, and the question of making false statements about yourself won’t have come up.

    All in all very difficult to definitively say he breached s.106.

  32. Verdict is ‘not proved beyond reasonable doubt’.

  33. Now watch as some CyberNats have a meltdown on Twitter.

    “An election court has thrown out an attempt to unseat the Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael after he admitted lying about his role in leaking a controversial memo about Nicola Sturgeon.”

    “Their ruling follows a very rare attempt to strike down an MP’s election under the Representation of the People’s Act 1983 by four voters in Orkney and Shetland, who raised nearly £165,000 through crowdfunding to pay for their legal action.”

    Full article here :-


  35. The details make it look like Carmichael was kind of fortunate, and might lead to significantly more cases in the future.

  36. There may be more cases in future, though I’d suggest this verdict indicates they are highly unlikely to succeed unless they are relatively clear-cut cases of falsely portraying another candidate in the context of the constituency that is the subject of the petition like the Woolas case.

  37. I’m sure the CyberNats will be in hysterics about this one. Still, the sour faced Sturgeon must be hugely disappointed, so that’s cheered me up no end.

  38. I think the case sets a clear precedent (in Scotland at least), that well-funded activists cannot use the courts to bully their way into overturning an election result they dislike. That is a good thing for democracy.

  39. I think that what the case has done is to significantly widen the sorts of lies that would be seen as grounds for overturning an election result. In the past, it was mostly Woolas-style cases, but this suggests that lies that can be shown to impact on a candidate’s own character are relevant. I suspect that we’ll see other challenges in the future using the reasoning in the ruling as a basis.

    I’m not sure that the SNP will privately be too upset about this result. If the result had been overturned, they would be faced with a by-election in possibly the hardest seat for them in Scotland, which they would be expected to win. In previous cases, the electorate has punished the party that has challenged the result. That, coupled with the polarised nature of Scottish politics, meaning that the SNP have limited scope to increase their share of the vote, makes me think they would be clear second favourites if there had been a by-election.

  40. @Simon

    With respect, I think it does the opposite. The case showed that attempts to overturn a result on the type of grounds we saw here are highly unlikely to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that s.106, as it stands, has been breached.

    You’re probably right about the SNP’s private thoughts, though I reckon they might have sneaked it with independent candidates splitting the unionist vote more than in May had there been a by-election.

  41. Alastair Carmichael may have been cleared but he did not some out ot the case very creditably

    Will it all have been forgotten by 2020?

    In the meantime, how would the Speaker rule if an MP in the Commons called Carmichael a liar in commection with matters on which he admitted in court that he lied?

  42. @FS

    An interesting question. I suspect that to reference him lying in that case – outside parliament and at a time when he wasn’t an MP would be fine – but to call him a liar generally would be out of order.

    2020 is a long way away. I expect it will have been mostly forgotten, at least by the wider public who tend to be reasonably forgiving with local MPs.

  43. By 2020 Alistair Carmichael will have been an MP for 19 years; in addition he will have gone from being a cabinet minister to effectively a backbencher (yes I know the Lib Dems have a front bench of sorts but it’s not the same). In those circumstances it wouldn’t surprise me if he stood down – in which case the impact of this case would be a moot point anyway.


    I would go a little further than you and suggest that Carmichael is extremely unlikely to stand again as his reputation has been severely damaged.

    If the Lib Dems choose a strong potential replacement they should have a reasonable chance of holding the seat in 2020, but a significant and critical % of islanders are unlikely to endorse as their MP a self-confessed liar.

  45. I kind of disagree. He may well stand down because he’s had enough of politics or whatever, but I think most people will end up voting on the basis of which party they prefer, or which constitutional outcome they want. The revelation that politicians tell lies may turn out to be less than entirely shocking to the electorate, and will probably not persuade that many people to vote for someone who is further away from their own views.

  46. Agree with Thomas.

    The scale of PV’s are minuscule but given the scale of this one it’s pretty safe to assume Carmichael will not be the MP of O&S by 2020, either being replaced by another Liberal Democrat candidate or losing against the SNP.

  47. I could hardly be further away in this country from Orkney and Shetland, so I don’t know what is going on “on the ground”. I wonder what evidence we have that Alastair Carmichael has been severely damaged and that his reputation is unlikely to recover.

    Carmichael will be 55 in 2020. So he won’t be anywhere near state retirement age but on the other hand he would have considerable difficulty in starting a new career. Is he really lovely to wish to leave parliament?

    How easy is it to deselect an MP within LibDem Party rules? It seems to me that in the past some pretty disreputable Liberal/LibDem MPs have remained in place and indeed been re-elected. Which is one reason I am, despite being a floating voter, personally not very inclined to support the LibDems.

  48. As secretary of state for Scotland during the final months of the referendum, I think it’s safe to say he’ll be offered a position in the Lords once his five years are up, whoever is running the country by then.

  49. I was looking at the 2011 Holyrood results here –

    Orkney (Liam McArthur)
    Lib 2912 35.7%
    SNP 2044 25.1%

    Shetland (Tavish Scott)
    Lib 4462 47.5%
    SNP 1134 12.1%

    If the SNP do as well as they did last May, they should take Orkney but not Shetland.

    If the SNP sustain 52% at polling day they would be likely to win 71 of the 73 constituency seats. They won’t take Shetland or Berwickshire.

  50. then again isn’t Shetland supposed to have voted SNP in May with Carmichael only holding on by Orkney votes? I wonder if they could take both island seats?

Leave a Reply

NB: Before commenting please make sure you are familiar with the Comments Policy. UKPollingReport is a site for non-partisan discussion of polls.

You are not currently logged into UKPollingReport. Registration is not compulsory, but is strongly encouraged. Either login here, or register here (commenters who have previously registered on the Constituency Guide section of the site *should* be able to use their existing login)