Just one in four of the Shetland electorate exercised their democratic right in last Thursday’s European elections, which saw the Liberal Democrats comfortably claim the largest share of islanders’ votes.
In a climate of almost unprecedented anger and disaffection with mainstream politicians in the wake of the expenses scandal at Westminster, only 4,254 of the eligible 17,139 voter roll decided to vote for parties to represent them in Brussels, leaving turnout at just 24.8 per cent – a fall of more than 10 per cent on the 2004 European elections.
The Liberal Democrats won the votes of almost exactly one third of the electorate, garnering the support of 1,438 voters to leave the party of MSP Tavish Scott and MP Alistair Carmichael comfortably ahead of second-placed SNP, who won 760 votes to poll 17.9 per cent.
The Tory party won 557 votes to come in third place, while the Scottish Greens performed unexpectedly well to inch above the 10 per cent mark on 435 votes and beat the beleaguered Labour party, which performed poorly across the UK, into fifth place. Labour won only 362 votes and 8.5 per cent of the ballot.
Some may also be surprised to learn that the right-wing British National Party won 92 votes, just over two per cent of the Shetland electorate, while strongly anti-immigration alliance UKIP was only marginally behind Labour on 288 votes and 6.8 per cent. The only other party to breach three figures in the ballot was the Christian Party, with 102 votes giving it a 2.5 per cent share.
Following Sunday night’s count in the council chamber at Lerwick Town Hall, local area returning officer Jan Riise said the turnout – much less than half of the proportion who voted in 2007’s Scottish and local elections – had been disappointingly below that for previous European elections.
He said: “I can’t really comment on the reasons for that, but they’re being speculated on nationally. It was a fine enough day for voters to come out. One thing I was pleased about was the postal vote was quite high – I think that’s more and more the trend, people applying for postal votes and when they get the vote through the mail they use it, which is a good thing.”
Very few candidates visited Shetland in the weeks leading up to the election, while anecdotal evidence suggested that many householders only received a smattering of party fliers through their letterboxes, meaning that for many islanders the election was almost an invisible non-event.
Mr Riise said: “I tried my bit, and I think there was plenty coverage in the media, it’s a feature of the type of election. We have good turnouts for Scottish Parliament elections and for local government elections, so there’s maybe a message in that, but beyond that I wouldn’t like to speculate. We certainly did what we could to promote the election and the staff turned out to run the polling stations in the usual way, but it was a disappointing turnout.”