By NEIL RIDDELL
SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has been installed as favourite in the race to replace Nicol Stephen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland and is expected to throw his hat into the ring early next week.
Mr Stephen resigned on Wednesday, claiming the role was putting too much stress on his family life, and Mr Scott quickly emerged as the most obvious successor.
Although he is seen as the choice of the party establishment to take over the reins, Mr Scott said yesterday that he did not want to make any “snap judgement” and had a number of important people to consult before deciding whether to stand for the leadership.
Currently finance spokesman for the party, he was transport minister in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition during the last parliament.
Mr Scott told The Shetland Times: “Firstly, I’m very disappointed but completely understand the reasons why Nicol Stephen has stood down. I am acutely aware of the family pressures he has faced and, therefore, simply do understand the decision he has taken.
“In terms of my own position, I’m going to spend the weekend discussing the leadership with my family, friends, the constituency party here in Shetland and my parliamentary colleagues and I will make my own intentions clear next week, but I will make them clear, firstly, in Shetland.
“Whatever I decide to do, it won’t in any way reduce the service I hope I provide to local people. I’m determined in whatever role I pursue to be as powerful an advocate as I can for Shetland interests.”
Party sources said they anticipated that Mr Scott would announce his candidacy on either Monday or Tuesday next week.
The MSP chose not to contest the leadership in 2005, giving his own family life as the main reason. He is divorced and recently remarried, to BBC Scotland political journalist Kirsten Campbell, with whom he lives in a £380,000 house in Edinburgh, while his children spend most of their time in Shetland.
Mr Scott, 42, was first elected as Shetland’s MSP in 1999 and has since won re-election twice. The seat is one of the safest in Scotland, with a majority of 4,409 last May giving him a 50 per cent margin of victory, the largest in any constituency.
The Inverness-born ex-farmer is the son of Shetland’s lord lieutenant John Scott and was educated at the Anderson High School before graduating with an honours degree in business studies at Napier College in 1989. He served as a councillor for the Lerwick Harbour and Bressay ward for five years prior to becoming an MSP.
Mike Rumbles, the colourful Aberdeenshire backbench MSP, has already announced his intention to stand for the leadership vacancy, while Borders MSP Jeremy Purvis has also said he is interested.
The party’s deputy leader in Scotland, Michael Moore MP, has taken temporary charge of the party while a contest – expected to take place in September – is staged. Mr Stephen, 48, took the leadership three years ago, replacing former Orkney and Shetland MP Jim Wallace, who had led the party in Scotland for 13 years.
If he stands and succeeds, Mr Scott would continue a tradition of parliamentarians from the isles leading the Liberal Democrats, who have been the most powerful political party at the ballot box in Shetland for more than half a century. Jo Grimmond, whose efforts helped to revive the ailing Scottish Liberals in the post-war era, won the Orkney and Shetland seat at Westminster from the Tories in 1950 and held it for 33 years, leading the party from 1956 to 1967.