ALISTAIR Carmichael has staved off the challenge from SNP candidate Danus Skene to hold onto the Orkney & Shetland constituency for the Liberal Democrats by a considerably reduced margin of 817 votes.
It leaves him as the only Lib Dem MP left standing in Scotland following an extraordinary General Election night which saw the SNP sweep virtually all before them north of the border.
The Northern Isles constituency was always going to be a two-horse race, but its closeness took many observers by surprise given Carmichael was defending a 51-point lead from the 2010 election.
His 9,407 votes (41 per cent) saw off Skene’s 8,590 (38 per cent), which saw the Lib Dems’ majority shrink from 9,928 votes five years ago to less than a tenth of that number. The SNP won more than quadruple the number of votes secured by John Mowat five years ago.
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 of UKIP on 1,082 votes (5 per cent).
A total of 22,803 votes were cast, giving a turnout of 66 per cent – up 57 per cent on 2010, thought to be a signal of the growth in political interest following last September’s independence referendum.
Carmichael’s share of the vote has reverted to almost exactly the same level as when he first took the seat in 2001. He has previously signalled his intention to step down at the end of this parliament, by which time he will have served in Orkney and Shetland for nearly two decades.
Alluding to online chatter earlier in the night forecasting his imminent demise, the victorious MP 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 it looked reading Twitter earlier this evening.”
He congratulated the SNP for a “quite remarkable political achievement”, adding that we “truly do live in remarkable political times in Scotland”.
Carmichael said: “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.”
His Lib Dem colleague Tavish Scott said earlier in the night that anyone in his party contemplating another alliance with the Tories “would be mad to go near it”.
Asked following the count for his thoughts, Carmichael said it looked as if the electoral arithmetic made any potential Conservative-Lib Dem coalition look very unlikely.
Skene, who at 71 came closer than he might have expected to becoming the oldest first-time MP since Frank Smith in Nuneaton in 1929, may not be joining scores of his party colleagues at Westminster. But party activists will feel he has laid the groundwork for a challenge to Tavish Scott’s seat in the Scottish Parliament 12 months from now.
In his speech following the declaration, Skene said it was “a very strong swimmer that survives the kind of tsunami that’s happened in Scotland”.
While this election marks “time for very real celebration and achievement” for the SNP nationally, Skene offered a partial apology that he hadn’t been able to take the seat.
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,” Skene continued, adding voters had “asserted the need for… a new politics for the Northern Isles – more participative, more transparent, more competitive, more autonomous.”