ONE IN three Shetland residents who turned out for Thursday’s European Parliament elections cast their vote in favour of the Liberal Democrats.
The party’s long lasting stranglehold in the islands continued as it accounted for 1,755 of the 5,159 valid votes cast – an increase on the 1,438 votes it won in the 2009 European poll.
However it was not enough for Lib Dem MEP George Lyon to keep his seat – the party’s vote crumbled nationally to allow UKIP’s David Coburn to win Scotland’s sixth seat.
Turnout among the 17,496-strong electorate was a shade under 30 per cent – marginally below the Scottish average but an improvement on five years ago when only one in four eligible islanders voted.
The SNP consolidated its second place with 17 per cent of the vote. The 897 people who placed their X in the nationalists’ box showed a slight rise on the 760 who did so last time around.
Third place was taken by the Scottish Greens with 638 votes (an increase of 203) equating to just over 12 per cent of those who voted.
UKIP, which has enjoyed a big increase in support nationally, more than doubled its share of the vote to finish fourth on 616 votes – just under 12 per cent.
That left the Labour Party trailing in fifth place, much to the disappointment of its representatives, with 590 votes – though that was up from 362 five years ago. It was a bad night, too, for the Conservatives whose number of votes slipped slightly from 557 to 543.
Britain First and the BNP won 55 and 40 votes respectively, with a split in the far right vote causing the latter’s share of the vote to more than halve on the 92 it won in 2009. Propping up the list of nine parties on 25 votes was No2EU.
Shetland is part of the Scotland constituency in European elections, which accounts for six MEPs out of 73 in total throughout the UK. The full Scottish result will not be known until Monday as the Western Isles refuses to count its votes on a Sunday.
Member of the Lib Dems’ local executive Theo Smith pronounced himself “extremely pleased” with the result: “It’s up on last time, and so is the turnout, both of which I’m delighted at,” he said.
The party’s standing in the polls has fallen sharply and it could finish as low as sixth in Scotland following four years of its membership of a coalition with the Tories at Westminster.
So what does Smith put the Liberals’ improved share of the vote in the isles down to? “I put it down to the good sense of the Shetland people.”
With national leader Nick Clegg running on a strongly pro-European theme during the campaign, Smith said he felt the vote suggested islanders were generally “positive about the EU – however you can’t be too complacent about that when you look at the UKIP vote”.
He added that with the SNP’s share only increasing marginally he remains “quite confident” that Shetlanders will reject independence in this September’s referendum.
The count took place at Lerwick Town Hall on Sunday evening beginning at 7pm with 19 staff given the arduous task of sifting through the ballot papers. There were 34 polling stations, while around two thirds of those who requested a postal vote chose to exercise their democratic right.
Local returning officer Jan Riise declared the count just after 10pm and afterwards said the process had run perfectly smoothly.
He said the turnout was “not as high as I’d like it to be” but was an improvement on 2009 “so at least it’s heading in the right direction”.
SHETLAND ISLANDS COUNCIL AREA RESULT:
Liberal Democrats: 1,755 (34%)
SNP: 897 (17%)
Scottish Greens: 638 (12%)
UKIP: 616 (12%)
Labour: 590 (11%)
Conservatives: 543 (11%)
Britain First: 55 (1%)
BNP: 40 (1%)
No2EU: 25 (-)