20th November 2017

SIC ELECTION: Ten new faces and one high-profile departure

A busy scene at the SIC election count this morning. Photo: Dave Donaldson

SIC ELECTION – Ten new faces will be seen in the SIC’s debating chamber over the next five years, with several of the first-time council candidates being given a vote of confidence by the electorate.

The biggest upset has been seen in the West Side, where former political leader Gary Robinson has lost his seat.

“I’m obviously hugely disappointed to have lost the election today, but I knew it was going to be tough,” he told The Shetland Times.

“I would rather stand and lose West – it’s where I’m from, it’s where my heart is – I’d rather have stood and lost than gone elsewhere in the hope of winning.

“We’ve got the result today and obviously I’m disappointed, but I have plans of other things to do in my life and I will just be getting on.”

Mr Robinson said the prospect of school closures in the last council had been a “big issue” for many. He believed a misconception had developed that the SIC had been actively trying to close schools rather than hold consultation on their future.

“The difficulty in 2012 was we had been warned that the reserves might have run out by now, if we hadn’t mended our ways. There was no guarantee that the recovery plan we had in place was going to deliver and we were going to get to the end of the council and find ourselves in a much better state than it had become.”

Shetland West winners (from left): Steven Coutts, Theo Smith and Catherine Hughson. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Former councillor for the North Isles, Steven Coutts, has migrated to the west and been named as one of the successful candidates there.

Also elected to Shetland West were newcomers Catherine Hughson and Theo Smith, who is set to begin his second term.

Ms Hughson will be one of five women in the new local authority. She said she was “absolutely delighted” that Shetland West voters had put their faith in her to represent them.

She thinks the new council will face an uphill struggle as it continues to deal with austerity, but she insisted: “There are still avenues to look at for saving money.”

Theo Smith said he got “slightly irritated” about people talking about austerity.

“I would hope that we could possibly go through this council and keep what we have. And if that’s austerity, I’m not sure I understand the meaning of the word.”

Many in the West Side, and elsewhere, have been concerned about the possibility of school closures.

Indeed, challenges were made to Mr Robinson during the campaign by unsuccessful candidate, Ian Tinkler. Mr Tinkler attracted 75 first preference votes.

Mr Smith said it would be “difficult” for the council to close the secondary department in Aith Junior High.

“That’s because it’s one of the top performing schools in Scotland, it has a rising role, and even if the council did vote to close it, I’m not sure if the Scottish government would.”

Meanwhile, Steven Coutts admitted it had been “a risk” to switch wards from the North Isles, where he was councillor before. But he was happy it had paid off nonetheless.

“For the previous five years I’ve been a North Isles councillor, having originally been born and brought up in Yell. But the family home is in Weisdale now and it seemed to make sense to do that switch and represent the area that I live in.

“Having been a councillor for the last five years I’m under no illusions over how difficult the next five years are going to be for the council.

“The message was clear on the doorsteps for me – education was a priority.”

He said he “sincerely hoped” that the council would not have to resort to closing any schools in the next five years.

In the Central ward Mark Burgess and Davie Sandison were returned. But top news there was that perennial candidate, Ian Scott, was taking the third spot. Mr Scott had run an anti-austerity campaign and backed spending more of the reserves to help cover the cost of providing services.

He said: “I have always had a good support in my area. There are a lot of people there who are not dyed in the wool Tories or Liberals. There are people who do see fairness as a way forward. The fight goes on, the hardest bit is yet to come.”

But Mr Sandison said: “One of the things new council candidates coming forward will quickly realise is the actual specific reality of the financial situation. Once all that is absorbed they might have a slightly different view of what they can and cannot do.

“One of the things I would agree with Ian, and other candidates, is we need to invest in social housing. That’s an investment. That’s not spending money, it’s an investment, and I think that is something we would be in agreement about.”

The winners of the North Isles ward (from left): ALec Priest, Duncan Simpson and Ryan Thomson. Photo: Dave Donaldson

The North Isles is seeing a complete turn-around, with a trio of fresh-faced members – the oldest of whom is 32 – set to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

Duncan Simpson took the highest proportion of first preference votes with 453. Ryan Thomson had 372, meanwhile, and Alec Priest 327.

Mr Priest, the oldest of the three at 32, is from Yell. He said he felt “proud that the people of the North Isles have faith in [himself] and Duncan and Ryan.”

The three were inspired to stand was because they saw the North Isles as “vulnerable,” he said.

“We see the long-term viability of the North Isles as being under threat.”

Meanwhile, the convener in the previous council, Malcolm Bell, has been returned to Lerwick North.

He secured a massive majority of first preferences in Lerwick North, said he was “delighted” to be re-elected to the council.

Reflecting on the result, he said: “I think a lot of the credit goes to the work of the last council. The general feeling on the doorstep was that we did not have everything right but the last council was strong and stable.

“We built a new school, a new hall of residence and new Eric Gray Centre. At the same time we have had the most severe budget cuts post-war and managed to deliver balanced books.”

Newly elected Lerwick North member John Fraser spoke of the hard work ahead.

“I would like to start by thanking everybody for their support and congratulating the other candidates. Commiserations to those who weren’t successful. A wonderful well done to Jan Riise and Anne Cogle and their team for such a well-run election count, and a huge, huge from-the-heart thank you to people in Lerwick North and Bressay for the kind reception they have given me over these last few weeks and for showing their faith in me to be their elected representative for this next five years.

“I do not in any way underestimate the magnitude of the task that’s ahead, and I can give my absolute assurance that I will work endlessly for the good of Lerwick North and Bressay and, indeed, Shetland as a whole.”

The third person elected to represent Lerwick North ward was Stephen Leask. He polled the second highest number of first preferences, but relied on second preference votes to secure his seat at the council.

Malcolm Bell is joined by newcomers John Fraser and Stephen Leask in the Lerwick North ward. Photo: Dave Donaldson.

Only 43.7 per cent of the Lerwick South electorate cast their vote yesterday. In Shetland’s only four councillor ward three of those elected are returning councillors. Peter Campbell and Cecil Smith secured victory in the first stage, while Amanda Westlake had to wait until the fourth stage of counting to secure a spot. The final spot was taken by newcomer Beatrice Wishart, who also won through in the first stage of counting.

In Shetland North just under 50 per cent of the electorate chose to use their vote. Andrea Manson had the most first preference votes (509) and Alastair Cooper was second (395) Both are returning to the council. New councillor Emma MacDonald was third with 240. Tory “paper” candidate Isobel Johnson had just 48 first preference votes.

Three South Mainland candidates, first-timer Robbie McGregor, Allison Duncan and George Smith, were all sent to the council without election as the ward was uncontested.

The Shetland Times will be speaking to more of the new and re-elected councillors for full coverage in next week’s paper.

• For video interviews click here.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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