Alistair Carmichael has spoken about his narrow General Election victory after he emerged as the only surviving Liberal Democrat MP in Scotland.
The former secretary of state has insisted going into government with the Tories was “the right thing” for the country.
He has defended outgoing leader, Nick Clegg, who stood down after the party’s dismal performance at the polls.
However, he has ruled himself out of filling Mr Clegg’s shoes.
His comments come after his SNP opponent Danus Skene came nail-bitingly close to ousting Mr Carmichael during last night’s election count, and ending the long-held liberal dominance in the isles.
Across the country a so-called “tsunami” of seats fell to the pro-independence party, leaving the Lib Dems, Labour and Conservatives with just one seat each north of the border.
The count saw 9,407 votes for Mr Carmichael. But that was only marginally ahead of the 8,590 in Mr Skene’s favour, in what was widely regarded as a two-horse race between the Lib Dems and SNP. Perhaps surprisingly, Conservative candidate Donald Cameron finished third, with 2,025 – ahead of the 1,625 votes cast for Labour’s Gerry McGarvey. UKIP candidate Robert Smith commanded 1,082 votes across Orkney and Shetland.
Mr Carmichael insisted going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 was “the right thing” for the country. Doing so may well be one of the main factors that has cost the party so dearly, although Mr Carmichael insisted that did not explain Labour’s very poor performance nationwide.
“What we now have in Scotland is a politics that is completely, radically and fundamentally altered. And it is going to take us all time to come to terms with that,” he said.
“I feel really sorry for Nick [Clegg]. Never in the history of politics has a good man received so much abuse for doing the right thing. He still did, what I consider to be, the right thing for the country. He put the national interest before the party interest.”
But Mr Carmichael ruled himself out of trying to become the new party leader himself. “I’ve said this before, and nothing has changed in that regard.”
He admitted feeling a mixture of relief, frustration and disappointment.
“When you look at the results across Scotland, you realise that terms like ‘tsunami’, ‘earthquake’ and ‘landslide’ are not exaggerations. I am pleased to have survived it.”
He admitted the House of Commons would be “very different” than before.
“But I am still going there to do the job that is more important to me than anything else, and that is representing the people of Orkney and Shetland.
“I think that I had a degree of insulation from the fullest force of the nationalist surge because I have focused on doing the job of a local MP for the last 14 years, and that has helped me to hold the line.”
Meanwhile, Mr Skene said the SNP had achieved its objective of “rattling the cage” of politics in the isles.
“Something has happened up here. We’re in new territory – we’ve got a competitive politics. The referendum campaign was, on the face of it, lost up here from our point of view.
“But something changed that engaged more people, that told people that change was possible.
“There are significant movements towards a more participative, accountable, transparent politics we needed.”
Mr Skene said he was still taking stock after last night’s election result.
“The process I’m trying to describe about a new political dispensation up here is something I feel I’ve contributed to with this exercise, and that’s what should be happening. But it’s not a question of ‘me, me, me’.”
He warned of the consequences of another five years of having David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. “We were looking for a hung parliament, and that isn’t really going to happen. God help us, really.
“In my opinion John Swinney is not going to keep his finger in the dyke any more. As more and more cuts come down, Scottish government is not going to be able to defend them.
“Are the public going to blame the Scottish government for cuts in the funding to local authorities, or are they going to realise where it’s coming from?”