Candidates from the four main parties had already declared that they were standing in the Orkney and Shetland constituency. Along with incumbent MP Alistair Carmichael, who has held the seat for the Liberal Democrats since 2001, Labour’s Mark Cooper, SNP hopeful John Mowat and Conservative Frank Nairn had thrown their hats into the ring. Today Orkney fisherman and businessman Robert Smith announced he would be standing for UKIP.
Mr Carmichael won just over half the votes in the constituency in the last UK election five years ago, giving him a 6,627 margin of victory over the second-placed Labour candidate.
The seat has been held by the Liberals since 1950. Both Mr Nairn and Mr Mowat have previously stood in the constituency, while it is the first outing for the 25-year-old, Edinburgh-based Mr Cooper. Any other individuals or parties wishing to field candidates have until 20th April to announce that they are standing.
Transport looks likely to be among the key issues at stake in the Northern Isles over the next four weeks, with concern particularly in Shetland at recent Scottish government-proposed cutbacks to NorthLink’s lifeline ferry service between Aberdeen and the isles. There is also a growing clamour for action to address the extortionate fuel prices being paid by those living in remote rural and island communities.
The outcome of the constituency battle will be declared in Kirkwall by returning officer Alistair Buchan, the chief execuitve of Orkney Islands Council. Depute returning officer Jan Riise is travelling to Orkney tomorrow for a meeting to discuss logistical matters and contingencies with regard the counting of the ballot.
Nationally, polls show the Conservatives remain ahead of Labour – which has been in government for 13 years – but it is far from clear that leader of the opposition David Cameron has enough support to gain a working majority in the House of Commons. Some pundits are predicting that Britain could end up with a hung parliament for the first time since 1974.
Anyone who has not yet registered to vote can do so by visiting www.orkney-shetland-vjb.co.uk/ELECTORAL.html, or contacting the electoral registration officer for Shetland on (01595) 745700.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Society, which campaigns for a more representative electoral system, declared today that the Orkney and Shetland seat was one of 36 – 60 per cent – of those in Scotland where the contest was over before it had begun.
Willie Sullivan, the ERS’s Scottish director, said: “Scottish electors are being cheated. Voting in the general election should be important for everyone, but in more than three out of five Scottish constituencies the result is clear before the voting even begins. People want their say on who represents them at Westminster, but with the present system parties can safely ignore the views of most electors.
“In Scotland we’ve gone further than England and Wales in developing our democracy. In electing the Scottish Parliament and in local government we know that, with the right system, votes matter everywhere. We should not put up with a system that results in there being no serious political contest in most of Scotland.
“Scotland has four main parties, and others such as the Greens are also very significant. We have a real diversity of political views and no one party is dominant. Elections in which one party knows it will win and the others know they will lose plainly do not reflect the Scottish reality. A Victorian voting system designed for a battle between Whig and Tory cannot deliver for voters in a modern Scotland.”