It was tactical voting (John Tulloch)

Following Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael’s crushing victory over the SNP’s Miriam Brett, congratulations seem in order. Indeed, he ran a strong campaign.

An interesting question however is why did he win so overwhelmingly, in the face of lingering resentment over the “ConDem’ coalition and his own ‘French-gate’ scandal? Was it the LibDems’ much-vaunted anti-Brexit stance? Or was it something else?

South of the border the Lib Dems’ two most high profile anti-Brexit campaigners, leader Tim Farron and former leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, fared poorly. Clegg lost his seat and Farron’s majority shrank from 9,000 to 777. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the anti-Brexit policy so enthusiastically embraced by Mr Carmichael.

In Scotland the Lib Dems took three seats from the SNP as the electorate recoiled from SNP efforts to re-frame Brexit as a reason for demanding a second independence referendum.

Capping that, in Shetland and Orkney, toxic local issues including: heavy council funding cuts on top of Westminster cuts; intention to rejoin the EU and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP); refusal to sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) pledge; and unfulfilled pledges on internal ferry funding and NorthLink fares,were hugely damaging for the SNP campaign.

Early in the campaign pollsters reportedly put Ms Brett ahead. However, a week before the election, Electoral Calculus had Carmichael in front (32 per cent) and Tory hopeful Jamie Halcro Johnston (28 per cent) neck and neck with Brett (29 per cent). Two days before the election, YouGov reported Carmichael had advanced to 42 per cent with Brett slipping to 26 percent. In the final result Carmichael registered 49 per cent to Brett’s 29 percent while Halcro Johnston sank dramatically to just eight per cent.

Both Lib Dems and SNP insisted the election was a “two-horse race” and that is certainly how it ended. However, there appears to have been a late voter stampede as Tory supporters, dreading an SNP win, deserted Halcro Johnston and voted Carmichael, en masse.

Meanwhile, SNP hopes of gutting the Labour vote via their high profile ex-Shetland Labour defectors failed to materialise due to Labour’s national resurgence and able candidate, and the ineffectiveness of the SNP’s local campaign.

It appears then that the extent of Mr Carmichael’s overwhelming victory had little to do with Lib Dem anti-Brexit posturing and plenty to do with wholesale tactical voting, aimed at keeping out the SNP.

Back at national level, the surprise outcome of a hung parliament provides an opportunity for smaller parties to gain political leverage. In particular, Scottish parties should be enabled more effectively to block the government’s alleged intention to “bargain away” the UK fishing industry in Brexit negotiations.

The SNP and LibDems should seek, therefore, to ally themselves with fishing constituency Tory MPs to protect the Scottish fishing industry from any possible sell-out.

The SNP, having snubbed the SFF pledge, are undependable however Mr Carmichael signed and doubtless, keen to live down Nick Clegg’s notorious tuition fees renege and his own indiscretion may, one hopes, be relied upon to fight hard for full abrogation of the CFP.

John Tulloch


Add Your Comment
  • ian tinkler

    • June 11th, 2017 16:37

    Miriam was discredited by some of her supporters. A cabal of yesterday’s people flooded the media with a deluge of sycophantic adoration, ad nauseum! As the majority of that cabal had little if any credibility with the folk of Shetland, support for Miriam haemorrhaged away. Further to that Miriam offered nothing posetive, just the negative parroting of the Maihri Black type anti-tory, anti-Westminster propaganda. Her whole campaign was central Scotland-based and mostly an irrelevance to Shetland.

  • Alastair Smith

    • June 13th, 2017 1:03

    Interesting article, I feel the biggest issue of this election, in Scotland was indyref2. It may have turned out quite differently if Sturgeon had kept her powder dry and bided her time. Instead she let the indyref2 genie out of the bottle and no amount of trying to ignore it in the latter stages of the election was going to make it go away. Interesting a lot of the votes lost by SNP went to the Tories.
    Political speaking, Holyrood is as far removed from us Islanders (I’m in Stornoway) as Westminster is and whatever the party, all we ask is that our representatives truly represent our interests.
    Tactical voting was done on all sides, if the Greens had not refrained from standing candidates many more narrow SNP victories could have turned out differently.

  • ian tinkler

    • June 13th, 2017 8:33

    I feel regarding Indyref2, Sturgeon was pressurised into it by the SNP hard-liners. Salmond repeatedly called for it , undermining her authority and it and quite selfishly forcing her hand. The SNP are well rid of him, perhaps recently, the most divisive man in Scotland.
    Even now, we already have Nationalist hard-liners accusing Sturgeon of betrayal of Scotland for not pushing harder for an Indieref2! ( “Abandoning the referendum would be a betrayal …..” pro-independence blog by James Kelly. ) Nationalism in Scotland, An injured animal biting its own wounds!!

    • Steven Jarmson

      • June 15th, 2017 21:19

      Sturgeons hand most certainly was not forced when she pushed for a Hollyrood vote on IndyRef2.
      She’s been boring us all for the last 3 years about IndyRef2.
      She hoped to run a campaign of promoting IndyRef2 over the course of the Brexit negotiations and then, her plan was to keep ramping up the gripes until either the UK governmemt gave in and said it could ahead, or she thought that keeping up the gripes until the 2020 general election (not going to happen now) and the 2021 Hollyrood elections would lead to again having most or all MP’s in Scotland plus getting an actual Hollyrood majority thus giving her ammunition to demand IndyRef2.
      Sturgeon thought she had a few years to sell IndyRef2.
      Her plans were scuppered by the General Election being called this year.
      The momentum is now with accepting the 2014 result.
      People just want to get on with their lives.
      The constant uncertainty the likes of the SNP offer is wearing thin.
      Perhaps now the SNP will start governing and stop griping.

  • Brian Smith

    • June 13th, 2017 18:20

    For a short but rational view of the general election in Orkney and Shetland in 2017, see the editorial in the New Shetlander, out on Friday.

  • Stuart Hannay

    • June 27th, 2017 12:19

    This ringing endorsement of the anti-Brexut candidate by fervent Brexiteers seems to me a very good example of cognitive dissonance, or the ability to hold two distinctly opposing views at the same time. Ruth Davidson is another one who’s particularly good at it.

    • Michael Garriock

      • June 28th, 2017 14:26

      Call it whatever you like Stuart Hannay, but sometimes it is necessary to choose the lesser evil from the two realistic options.

      The anti-EU, anti-Scots Independence options were never going to have a realistic chance of winning, only the pro-EU, pro Scots Independence (…and if that’s not holding two distinctly polar opposite views at one time, I don’t know what is), and pro-EU, anti-Scots Independence options did. Which left a no-brainer choice, better to get one of the things you want, and decide to fight for the other another day, than vote in neither of the things you want, no?

      The EU we might just manage to tolerate under protest and duress if we really must, being dictated to by an Independent Scotland is a hard limit, pure and simple.

      It’s called being tactics, and tactical voting. Choosing which battles to fight on which day wind all that…. It’s perfectly rational and sensible behaviour in most folk’s books….

  • Michael Wallace

    • July 7th, 2017 9:01

    Couldn’t disagree with your analysis more.

    If you look at the results in the past, the tory’s got 2,000 votes in 2015. They got the same number of votes in 2017. Labour went from 1,600 odds to a little more than 2,600, up roughly 1,000. The Lib Dem vote went up by 2,000 from 9,000 to over 11,000. So the “unionist vote” went up by 3,000. Where did that come from? The SNP obviously as they went down by 2,000, and there were 1,000 more electors making up the rest. To argue that tactical voting had any kind of impact does not explain why it was so close in 2015, and yet so distant in 2017, despite the Tory vote not shifting and the Labour vote going up. The only explanation is the positive campaign run by the LibDems, and anger and frustration with the SNP who have failed to deliver for the Northern Isles.

    Finally all the “polls” that you’re talking about only dealt with applying national swing to constituencies, so were little better than a stab in the dark.


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