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News / General Election count: live from Clickimin

Gerry McGarvey believes his mission to spread the Labour message has gone 'splendidly'. Photo: Shetnews

SHETLAND NEWS will be blogging live from the Clickimin Bowls Hall for the Orkney and Shetland general election count. The Northern Isles declaration is expected sometime between 3am and 4am.

04.33 – SNP candidate Danus Skene says that Scotland’s apparent desire for change is “something to be celebrated”.

The party came second to the Liberal Democrats’ Alistair Carmichael by 817 votes.

In a speech following the vote declaration, Skene – seemingly referring to his opponent’s remarks following a leaked civil service memo claiming SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon had said she would prefer David Cameron staying on as PM – said “these things happen in elections”.

“It is a very strong swimmer that survives the kind of tsunami that’s happened in Scotland,” Skene said.

While this election is a “time for very real celebration and achievement” for the SNP nationally, Skene – who at 71 would have been the oldest first-time MP at Westminster since the 1920s – offered a partial apology that he wouldn’t be able to join so many of his party colleagues in parliament.

He thanked voters in Orkney and Shetland for their engagement in the process, saying the team behind him had “brought something very new to the politics of the Northern Isles in mounting such a campaign for the SNP”.

“The people of Scotland as a whole want change, and that is something to celebrate that we have demonstrated at today’s election,” he continued.

“The people of Orkney and Shetland have also… asserted the need for… a new politics for the Northern Isles – more participative, more transparent, more competitive, more autonomous.”

04.20 – Alluding to online chatter earlier in the night forecasting his demise, victorious Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Carmichael said in his acceptance speech: “I think I have a small understanding of how Mark Twain felt when he wrote that reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Certainly that was the way I looked reading Twitter earlier this evening.”

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He congratulated the SNP for “quite remarkable political achievement”, adding that we “truly do live in remarkable political times in Scotland”.

“I want to thank the people of Orkney and Shetland for again affording me the tremendous privilege… and keeping faith in the cause of liberalism that has long burnt bright in these islands and continues to do so today.

“Across the UK I think the political picture is still an emerging one. It is far from clear at the moment, but I tell you this – whatever happens, my first priority will always be, as it always has been, to look out for and to protect the best interests of these quite remarkable islands and the people who live here.”

03.59 – ORKNEY AND SHETLAND RESULT: Alistair Carmichael holds onto the seat for the Liberal Democrats on a massively reduced majority. He won 9,407 votes (41 per cent) against 8,590 for the SNP’s Danus Skene, who took 38 per cent of the vote. The Lib Dem’s majority of 9,928 in 2010 has shrunk to just 817 this time around. 

Third place was claimed by the Tories’ Donald Cameron on 2,025 votes (9 per cent), followed by Labour’s Gerry McGarvey on 1,624 votes )(7 per cent) and Robert Smith (UKIP) on 1,082 votes (5 per cent). Votes cast: 22,803. Turnout: 66%.

03.21 – It looks like we’re on target for a 3.30am declaration at Clickimin. Given Alistair Carmichael enjoyed a 52-point victory five years ago, few could have expected this seat to be nip and tuck. But, despite the vast bulk of his 9,928 majority from 2010 being wiped out by the SNP’s Danus Skene, sources from both parties are now acknowledging that the MP will hang onto his seat.

03.05 – UKIP candidate Robert Smith, the only candidate absent from the count, is remaining philosophical ahead of this morning’s declaration.

The Orkney based politician was regularly absent from debates and meetings in Shetland due to his work as a fisherman.

However, he feels that he was still able to spread his party’s message.

“I wasn’t there to get votes,” he stated. “I was there to put my case across and point out some of the ludicrous nonsense we’re living with.”

So how does he rate his chances of landing an impressive tally of votes?

“Whatever I get, I get,” Smith replied.

The Orcadian received 6.3 per cent of the votes in the 2010 Orkney & Shetland general election.

02.02 – Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott reckons his party colleague Alistair Carmichael, who has just arrived at the Clickimin count, will “just hold on” in Orkney and Shetland. But, quite remarkably, he could well be the only non-SNP MP north of the border.

“It’s always easy to be clever now given what looks like’s happening here, where Alistair will just hold on, but he could well be the only non-SNP MP in the whole of Scotland.

“In those circumstances I’m very grateful if he hangs on. Given people like Charles Kennedy has lost – if that’s what happens – anyone who holds on against this tsunami of SNP votes has done remarkably well. I think a lot of people in the coming days will say ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t think it was going to be that tight’.”

Scott, who looks likely to face a battle to retain the Shetland seat at Holyrood next year, says it looks as if much of the Labour vote in the islands has gone “straight across to the SNP”.

But the big factor, he feels, is the Lib Dems’ decision to enter a coalition with the Tories at Westminster five years ago.

“I said in 2010 that would be very, very difficult for us, then in 2011 we got hammered in the Scottish parliamentary elections, so I can’t say it’s a big surprise that we’re reaping the whirlwind of that tonight.”

And he has some strong words of advice for any Lib Dem thinking another Tory coalition is a good idea.

“They would be mad to go near it, and any Liberal Democrat stupid enough to suggest they should go back into bed with the Tories just needs to look at what’s happened tonight. I can’t believe that they’d even consider it.”

01.27 – Deputy returning officer Jan Riise says the turnout figure for Shetland is 65.8 per cent. We don’t have the numbers for Orkney yet, but the combined turnout in 2010 was around 57 per cent.

01.25 – This from Scottish journalist Lesley Riddoch, who gave two talks in Shetland last year about her book ‘Blossom’. The general feeling is Orkney and Shetland result could be a good deal closer than previously thought.

00.55 – Labour candidate Gerry McGarvey admits there is “no tradition” of the party in Shetland – but he feels his own campaign has gone “splendidly”.

The politician, who hails from Stirling, is realistic about his performance in the Orkney and Shetland constituency.

“I’ve had an opportunity to get out and about and tell people what I’m standing for and to put the Labour message out,” he said. “It’s been a radical manifesto about basic fairness, equality and justice. But there’s no [Labour] tradition here, and I’m aware of that. My responsibility was to get the message out there and make it loud clear and I feel like I’ve done that, so I hold my head high.”

So how have the public taken to him whilst he was campaigning? “Shetland people have been superb,” he replied.

McGarvey added that he feels the make-up of the Orkney and Shetland constituency could change in the near future.

“Initially when I was presented as a candidate [the Shetland public] were thinking ‘well, you’re not local’. But it’s impossible to be local to both Orkney and Shetland, which I think is a very interesting one to the constituency itself, to still be actually be one entity. I think that will ultimately have to change at some point.”

00.52 – There were surprised faces at tonight’s election count when self-styled Shetland independence campaigner Stuart Hill turned up as an accredited observer authorised by the Electoral Commission.

Hill, who has been asking voters to spoil their ballot papers in the name of his Sovereign Shetland campaign said the election in the isles was invalid.

He said: “ I have handed in a letter to the returning officer pointing out that there was no proof in the courts that Shetland is part of Scotland.

“In the absence of that proof this election invalid. I am surprised the count is still going on.”

00.18 – Labour member Jim Mainland believes the SNP’s predicted dominance in Scotland has triggered the “danger” of the Conservatives getting into government again.

The three-company UK exit poll released soon after 10pm suggests that the Tories could win 316 seats.

“It’s good to have a proper contest I think, but this is a slightly lop-sided contest in my opinion, because of what the SNP are saying and the influence that they’re going to have here,” he said.

“So obviously Labour in Scotland is being hammered. But we see what we’re going to get here – we’re going to get the Tories back in, that’s always the danger. Vote SNP, get the Tory government again.”

In the 2010 general election, Labour received 10.7% of the votes in Orkney and Shetland.

00.14 – The last of the Shetland ballot boxes have just arrived at Clickimin. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and we’re expecting the ballot papers from Orkney – being flown up by Loganair’s Islander plane – to arrive around 1am.

00.12 – One of our Shetland media colleagues is making a quick dash home for fear that he may have left his oven on. We won’t identify him, but he’s worried in case his guitars go up in flames.

00.05 – There was election fever of a somewhat different kind in Mareel tonight with the showing of a locally produced satire film.

The 15-minute flick ‘Apolitics Now’, made by Shetland man Tirval Scott, was shown after the polling stations had closed.

Billed as a “satirical slap in the chops for modern politics”, it’s fair to say the film, narrated by former Channel 4 man Nigel Buckland, lived up to its billing.

The short movie featured spliced up clips of well-known politicians, such as David Cameron, Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg. with their speeches cut in conveniently amusing places.

The main thread of the film was the notion that politicians are leading increasingly dull and insipid professional lives, spouting answers that ignore the crux of the issue.

Shetland News, of course, can’t possibly comment.

23.45 –  Donald Cameron, standing for the Conservatives, says he has enjoyed the campaign and managed to make it along to 15 polling stations “from Sumburgh to Sullom Voe today and it’s been great, despite the weather, but I’m well used to that”.

As to the campaign “between the candidates – although we have our clear political differences – it’s been relatively good-natured. The people of Orkney and Shetland have been incredibly warm and welcoming”.

The 38 year old lawyer, who lives outside Edinburgh, said he had not been able to campaign as much as he’d have liked “for professional and domestic family reasons”, but had covered as much terrain as he could.

Will he improve on the Tories’ 2010 performance in Orkney and Shetland? “I hope so. I think we all recognise that Alistair [Carmichael] is a popular local MP and that he has a sizeable majority that was always going to be difficult for us to make huge headway against, but we’re confident that we’ve done well.”

And what of the exit poll suggesting his party has exceeded expectations and won 316 seats (mostly in England) across the UK?

“I think it’s very difficult to read anything into it at the moment – I think the result will be a lot more nuanced, in Scotland in particular, than that exit poll suggests. I think that it doesn’t really take into account local factors… this is one election where an exit poll really has to be treated with a high degree of caution.”

23.29 – SNP candidate Danus Skene is sure his party, which won a shade over 10 per cent of the vote in 2010, has done “very well compared to anything before” in this constituency – as you might expect with the party riding high in the polls across Scotland.

“But we don’t know how well [until it’s been counted]. It’s win-win. If you’ve made a lot of progress then you’ve won something and that’s great. Personally I’ll go home and read a good book. But if we win, we win, and it’s very big.”

Is he confident of winning? “I wouldn’t have thought so before I came in here.”

The three-company UK exit poll suggests the SNP may win as many as 58 out of 59 seats in Scotland. “I assume we’re number 59,” Skene says, “but I don’t know.”

How would it feel if he were the only unsuccessful nationalist candidate north of the border? “Tough – they can’t bite me, I’m too far away!”

22.26 – The first ballot boxes have just arrived at the Clickimin Bowls Hall, where the count for the Orkney & Shetland constituency in the 2015 General Election is taking place. It’s the first time the Northern Isles count, usually held in Kirkwall, has been held in Shetland.

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