Tavish Scott has issued a final plea for voters to stick with what they know by re-electing him to represent their interests when they go to the polls for the Scottish election tomorrow.
The presence of anti-Viking Energy independent candidate Billy Fox has injected added interest into the campaign to become the isles’ representative at Holyrood. Mr Fox concluded his campaign by urging voters to turn out in record numbers to revitalise democracy in Shetland.
Although Mr Scott remains odds-on 4-9 favourite to retain the seat he has held for 12 years, the odds on Mr Fox creating an upset by unseating the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ leader have been shortened in recent days to just 6-4 against.
Polling stations throughout the isles will be open from 7am until 10pm on Thursday. As well as selecting a constituency MSP, voters have the opportunity to back a party on the Highlands and Islands regional list. Six list MSPs will be elected to represent the region.
Voters will also have their say on whether the UK should ditch first past the post for electing MPs to Westminster and adopt the alternative vote (AV) system instead.
The count, which will take place in the Bowls Hall at Clickimin, should get underway shortly after booths close. Around 2,000 people in the isles have already voted by post.
Votes from residents in outlying islands should arrive in Lerwick to be counted shortly before 1am. Returning officer for Shetland Jan Riise hopes the result can be declared by around 2.30am on Friday. The AV result will be counted on Friday afternoon and announced at around 6pm.
In his final pitch to the electorate Mr Fox said any inroads into the “entrenched safe seat” would be a good outcome for politics in the isles.
He said: “I would urge the Shetland electorate to vote tomorrow. A record Scottish election turnout would be a very good message for democracy in Shetland.
“Any move towards making this a more marginal constituency can only be positive. It would mean a much healthier state of affairs for politics in the islands and the main parties would begin to take an interest.
“The seven list MSPs who represent Shetland on equal status with our constituency member would begin to provide meaningful representation for us. I therefore urge you to please use your vote tomorrow.”
Mr Scott is defending a handsome majority of almost 5,000, but is widely expected to lose votes due to a combination of hostility towards Viking Energy and discontent about the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in London.
As the campaign drew to a close he said now was not the time for Shetland to be represented by “an inexperienced new hand with no knowledge of how Holyrood works, or for a single issue candidate who will never be noticed”.
Mr Scott said: “The next five years is going to be the toughest at Holyrood since the parliament was set up in 1999. There will be less money as a result of the banking collapse and Labour’s economic mismanagement.
“Decisions made in Edinburgh will affect Shetland’s schools, hospitals, ferry and air links, emergency services and much more. They can make the difference between the success and failure for the businesses on which the local economy is built.
“Over the past 12 years, in and out of government, I have worked for Shetland, helping individual constituents, businesses, and the public and voluntary sector. If I am re-elected, I will continue this work and will, with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, fight the dangerous centralising plans of the other parties.
“They want to start with a single police force and then move on to the fire and social care services. After that, who knows what they will want to centralise in Edinburgh or Glasgow.”
Meanwhile, Labour candidate Jamie Kerr called on “all progressive people” in the isles to “back the fight against Lib Dem and Tory cuts” by giving him their vote.
He said: “Neither the SNP nor anyone else have the will or ability to stand up to the coalition’s Thatcherite agenda. Shetlanders have a historic opportunity tomorrow to dent the coalition by toppling Nick Clegg’s man in Scotland, Tavish Scott.
“As can be seen from our efforts on the doorsteps across the isles, Labour are the only team talking about the issues that really matter to ordinary Shetland folk.”
The list of five constituency candidates is completed by the SNP’s Jean Urquhart and Conservative hopeful Sandy Cross.