Forty-three candidates joined the chase for 22 seats across seven constituencies in May’s SIC elections in time for this afternoon’s 4pm deadline.
There are enough candidates to ensure a contest in every ward. Among the 43 candidates, all but four are standing as independents, with two SNP hopefuls and a pair of Scottish Christian Party candidates. In 2007 there were 50 candidates in all.
Seven candidates are standing in each of the two Lerwick wards, while the South Mainland and North Isles wards are less crowded with four and five candidates respectively.
Fears about the dearth of female candidates were eased slightly after three women – ex-Shetland Times editor Vaila Wishart, ex-councillor and hotel owner Andrea Manson and Lerwick woman Amanda Westlake – announced their candidacies earlier in the week.
Other new names to join the race this week include retired teacher Peter Campbell, retired West Side minister Tom Macintyre, retired postman and runner Bill Adams, young Glaswegian law graduate Alex Wright, window cleaner and committed socialist Ian Scott and dentist Ian Tinkler.
Wednesday morning’s Full Council saw farewell tributes and hearty rounds of applause for departing veterans convener Sandy Cluness, political leader Josie Simpson and “mother of the house” Florence Grains, who is retiring after 30 years’ service.
In all, 11 current councillors are stepping aside, and at least two or three incumbents face a tough battle to win re-election, meaning Lerwick Town Hall will witness sweeping changes following the 3rd May poll.
Out west could see a close race, with Gary Robinson and Frank Robertson faced with having to fight off Theo Smith, the Reverend Tom Macintyre and dentist Ian Tinkler if they want five more years in the town hall. Marion Hughson and Andy Holt also lodged their papers.
Mr Macintyre spent six years as a minister in the West Side, having previously worked for the Church of Scotland in Ayrshire and Paisley. He wants to see more affordable housing in the ward, and the completion of a two-lane road to the far west.
He wants an ethos of “effective governance, fiscal probity and sound investment” instilled within the council, which must stop “dithering” and end the “waste of valuable resources”. Some of last month’s cutback proposals “will need to be revisited” to protect the most vulnerable in society.
On the contentious windfarm, he is in favour but wants the scale reduced: “People of Shetland must decide to embrace the Viking Energy project or face the consequences of dwindling revenue and decline in standards of public services.”
Mr Tinkler, who has lived in Shetland for the past 20 years, is vehemently opposed to the Viking windfarm and wants to “protect and nurture” Shetland’s greatest asset, “our children and young people”. He would seek to open up hills and coastline with footpaths, bridle ways and camping bods where possible.
He hopes to tackle “gross excesses” at every level of the SIC, asking how it can afford to have 131 staff earning more than £50,000 a year when comparable local authorities get by with half that number.
In the event of Scottish independence, which he strongly opposes, Mr Tinkler would advocate full separation from Scotland, with Shetland becoming a crown dependency.
Davie Sandison, who won December’s by-election to replace Iris Hawkins, is the only Central Ward councillor hoping to stay on, with Betty Fullerton and Andrew Hughson departing.
Today the Scottish Christian Party’s Peter Jamieson and Shetland Times columnist Mark Burgess emerged as new candidates. John Hunter had previously confirmed he was standing.
Other challengers include Vaila Wishart, who was brought up in Lerwick and has lived in Burra for the past 20 years. She edited this newspaper for over 14 years before retiring in 2006. She said the next council faced some “stark choices” to redress many years of “profligacy” and get its finances back on track.
She will resist any plan to move primary school pupils from Hamnavoe, Tingwall and Nesting into a larger school at Scalloway, but thinks secondary education should focus on Brae and the AHS with “phased closures of most junior secondaries”.
Ms Wishart thinks the Viking Energy windfarm is too large and would damage tourism and other businesses. She views the plan to select a majority of eight non-councillor trustees to Shetland Charitable Trust as “undemocratic” and would prefer direct elections.
Election regular Ian Scott this week fervently set his stall out against spending cutbacks (see Readers’ Views) and criticised candidates who refuse to divulge their political leanings.
Mr Scott said there had been “not one word of protest from any of our councillors concerning the cuts, perhaps though a few crocodile tears for those who are about to suffer”.
He continued: “It is fairly obvious to all why our Liberal friends are a bit shy at declaring their political colours, but to patronise the electorate by regurgitating the old chestnut of political neutrality surely does them a grave disservice.”
Economic development chairman Alastair Cooper will be hoping for a repeat of the 2007 election, when he romped home with 438 first preference votes. New names to emerge today were Colin Arnot, well-known storyteller Davy Cooper and Alan MacDonald.
Also vying for supremacy will be two faces from councils gone by. Drew Ratter, who has just retired from the Crofters Commission, said at the start of the month that he wants to form a grouping of like-minded people to stand together in May.
Andrea Manson, co-owner of the St Magnus Bay Hotel and Mid Brae Inn, has also entered the contest. She was councillor for the old Delting North ward from 1983 until being ousted by Mr Ratter in 1994.
Allison Duncan, the number one candidate in 2007, is the only councillor looking to stay on as Jim Budge and Rick Nickerson step aside.
Challengers come in the shape of ex-Shetland College chief George Smith, who stays in Sandwick, Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox and Scottish Christian Party candidate Andrew Shearer. Only one of the four hopefuls for the South Mainland will miss out.
Mr Fox, who came second to Tavish Scott in last year’s Scottish Parliament elections, had been planning to stand in Lerwick South. His reasoning for going further south is that only two candidates had come forward for the constituency by the middle of this week, and he wanted to ensure there is a proper contest.
“I feel there is a need for it to be better represented,” he said. “I bide in Quarff, I haven’t lived in the town for 24 years and don’t envisage living anywhere in Shetland other than Quarff, so I’ve decided to go with my home patch.”
With SIC convener Sandy Cluness retiring, there will be at least one new name in Lerwick North. Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart was the most popular choice in the smaller of the town’s two wards in 2007. He and Bressay-based councillor Caroline Miller face some stiff competition.
Former police chief Malcolm Bell, SNP man Danus Skene, 24-year-old Glaswegian law graduate Alex Wright, retired postman Bill Adams and sound engineer Michael Stout have all decided to give it a try.
Mr Wright moved to Lerwick last year and works for aquaculture firm Grieg Seafood Hjaltland. He plans to spend his life in Shetland and says he’d be a councillor who listens and acts on the public’s concerns.
He wants the council to “wean” itself off its oil reserves rather than making cuts too quickly and too deeply without enough regard for the economic consequences. Describing himself as broadly left-of-centre, he is committed to social justice and opposes policies which leave vulnerable people behind, such as shutting the Freefield lunch club.
Mr Wright wants a review into whether the council could purchase fuel distribution from GB Oils and run it in-house. Describing the North Ness fuel depot as a “catastrophe waiting to happen”, he thinks the SIC should buy the depot and move it to a safer location.
He argues for a network of rural hub offices created, thinks street lighting should be switched to energy-saving LEDs, and favours selling off under-occupied properties to raise cash. Viking Energy is “a risk too big to take”, which could deal a “huge blow” to the islands’ tourist industry.
The most crowded contest comes in Lerwick, where three incumbents – Jonathan Wills, Jim Henry and Cecil Smith – have been joined by retired teacher Peter Campbell, SNP man Iain Morrison, Robbie Leith and 40-year-old Amanda Westlake.
Mr Campbell, who ran Dr Wills close in 2008’s by-election to replace Cecil Eunson, was brought up in the now uninhabited island of Scarp, off Harris. He moved to Shetland to teach in Foula in 1976, and also taught in Ollaberry before retiring eight years ago.
Sharing the concern of many at proposed cuts to the Freefield lunch club and the meals on wheels service, Mr Campbell said many of the issues close to the hearts of Lerwick South residents were those which affected Shetland as a whole.
He worries about the potential for a “divisive” town versus country split on issues such as education, and wants to ensure there is more detailed discussion about cuts measures so they don’t lead to a “multiplier effect ravaging the local economy”.
Ms Westlake has years of experience working in Shetland’s voluntary sector and runs her own self-catering business in Aberdeen and Lerwick. She said her other interests included culture, tourism, heritage and the environment, and she is also passionate about schools and making decisions “to ensure Shetland bairns have a bright future”.
Though accepting the council will have to make more cuts, she doesn’t have a “doom and gloom” outlook, saying there are plenty of positive opportunities ahead for the community. She also suggested there might be areas where council services could be taken on and run better by the voluntary sector.
The departure of political leader Josie Simpson and Laura Baisley leaves only Robert Henderson seeking re-election in the North Isles. 29-year-old Steven Coutts, who was raised in Yell, and Shetland Arts chairman and ex-teacher Jim Johnston had already declared their candidacies, and were today joined by Alan Skinner and Gary Cleaver.