19th August 2018
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Thirteen new faces as independents triumph again in SIC election

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The Shetland public have elected 13 new faces to represent their interests on the SIC from now until 2017. All 22 local election seats have again been won by independents, among whom there are just three women.

Former chief police inspector Malcolm Bell won the biggest share of the vote in any ward, capturing 56 per cent of first preference votes in Lerwick North. There were resounding victories, too, for a pair of the last administration’s most outspoken opposition councillors, Jonathan Wills and Allison Duncan.

General consensus among candidates was that, along with the divisive Viking Energy windfarm, those they spoke to on doorsteps had been particularly exercised by the threat of school closures, proposed cuts to care for the elderly and the general uncertainty created by the big spending cutbacks planned in the next two years.

There were no great upsets at this morning’s count in Lerwick Town Hall, which saw only two of the 11 incumbent candidates – Jim Henry and Caroline Miller – fail to hold onto their seats. There was a fairly dismal showing from the four candidates who stood on party tickets, two from the SNP and a pair of Scottish Christians.

The new batch will begin their five-year stint with an initial induction into the mysterious ways of council business on Monday, while the jostling for positions will begin ahead of a vote later this month on who is to replace the retired pairing of political leader Josie Simpson and convener Sandy Cluness.

It is not until Wednesday 23rd May that the new council stages its first full, formal public meeting. It comes 24 hours ahead of their first – and, with the big Viking investment decision still pending, potentially tumultuous – charitable trust meeting.

The trio of females elected represents a fall on the five who were on the last council. Hotelier Andrea Manson, who has been a councillor previously, won a commanding 444 first preference votes in the North Mainland, while voluntary sector worker Amanda Westlake and former Shetland Times editor Vaila Wishart won seats in Lerwick South and Shetland Central respectively.

Other new faces include ex-Shetland College boss George Smith and former Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox, who came second and third behind the hugely popular Mr Duncan in the South Mainland. He claimed 685 first preference votes, 45 per cent of the ballots cast.

The first count declared just before 10am this morning was in Shetland West, where Theo Smith topped the poll with 481 first preference votes. He was joined by Gary Robinson after the first stage of voting, while Frank Robertson had to wait until seventh preferences were taken into account before securing another term.

Up in the North Mainland, Drew Ratter has found his way back into the council chamber after a five-year stint at the Crofters Commission, but only just. He and Ms Manson were elected alongside Alastair Cooper, who served as development committee chairman in the last council. He came second with 346 first preference votes.

In Shetland Central, Ms Wishart was placed in second behind Davie Sandison, who commanded a convincing 375 first preference votes. This newspaper’s Scalloway-based columnist Mark Burgess came through at the fifth stage of counting having been marginally behind window-cleaner Ian Scott on first votes.

At 29 years of age, Steven Coutts will be the youngest councillor by more than a decade as a representative of the North Isles, where voters are worried their ferry timetables are about to be slashed back. Mr Coutts came second behind Robert Henderson, who saw his vote increase substantially with 430 votes. Taking up the third North Isles seat is Unst-based Gary Cleaver, who runs a small textile craft business with his wife.

With the count progressing smoothly and on schedule, the last two counts declared were in Lerwick just before 1pm. The north saw Mr Bell secure the largest mandate of any candidate across Shetland, while Bressay-based Michael Stout was elected at stage two of the count.

Mr Bell, who had looked quite nervous before the result was announced, had to leave the police force early for health reasons but said he felt “too young to be put out to grass”.

“I felt I had another big job in me, and felt the council was the ideal opportunity to bring my experience gained and to continue working in public service,” he said. “People want to support and trust the council. I think, to a large extent, that the last council never recovered from a difficult start.”

Allan Wishart saw his share of the vote decline substantially, but won through after seventh preferences were counted. Mr Wishart said his involvement as Viking Energy project co-ordinator was one of the the reasons behind his loss of votes.

Dr Wills has evidently proved immensely popular with voters since winning the 2008 Lerwick South by-election, attracting a whacking 646 votes this time. Cecil Smith held onto his seat, getting in at the second stage having won 319 first preferences. Retired teacher Peter Campbell and Ms Westlake complete the line-up in what is the only ward with four representatives.

Each of the Lerwick wards saw an incumbent councillor trounced: in the north Mrs Miller attracted a meagre 35 votes to come sixth, while in the south Mr Henry won only 58 first preferences.

While the SNP is unarguably in the ascendancy nationally, it is still having no joy in establishing a foothold in Shetland. Their candidates Danus Skene and Iain Morrison polled a fairly disastrous 184 votes between them in the two Lerwick wards.

The four-hour count at Lerwick Town Hall went by without any hitches, with the behaviour of candidates impeccable throughout. Counting began with the Shetland West ward shortly after 9am and was completed on schedule just before 1pm. 

Returning officer Jan Riise pronounced himself “very pleased with the progress of the count”, which he said was testament to the hard work of his own staff and those at the 37 polling stations around the islands.  

The highest turnout was on the West Side at 64 per cent, which some are speculating may be related to Viking Energy given the proximity of the turbines to some communities in the ward. Second highest was the North Isles, where 61 per cent of the electorate voted. The lowest was in Shetland Central at only 46 per cent, though that is still expected to be higher than the national average for these local elections.

With turnout in the two Lerwick wards hovering either side of 50 per cent, Dr Wills was sad and disappointed that so many had not exercised their democratic right: “People are dying for the vote in Syria, and I find it very depressing,” he said. 

Fewer than 100 papers were spoiled. Among those was one where someone had scrawled  “Hi Jan!”, prompting one of the day’s lighter moments as Mr Riise joked: “I didn’t know I had any friends!” Another decided to fritter away their vote by scribbling: “Don’t follow your leaders. Watch your parking meters” – which, music buffs will know, is drawn from a 1965 song by the venerable Bob Dylan.

RESULTS

Shetland West: Frank Robertson, Gary Robinson, Theo Smith.

Shetland Central: Mark Burgess, Davie Sandison, Vaila Wishart.

Shetland South: Allison Duncan, Billy Fox, George Smith.

Shetland North: Alastair Cooper, Andrea Manson, Drew Ratter.

Lerwick North: Malcolm Bell, Michael Stout, Allan Wishart.

Lerwick South: Peter Campbell, Cecil Smith, Amanda Westlake, Jonathan Wills.

* For full, in-depth reaction from the successful candidates, see our “as it happened” blog.

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