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Features / Tories put forward paper candidates

THE CHAIRMAN of the local Conservative branch has denied that a Tory candidate in the Shetland Islands Council election who doesn’t want people to vote for him was put forward for selection without his full knowledge.

Thomas Williamson, who is one of four candidates standing in the Lerwick North ward, told Shetland News in late March that he had been “brainwashed” by the party into standing.

He was quoted by local media this week as saying he doesn’t want anyone to vote for him because he was signed up to stand without his full knowledge.

Local branch chairman Maurice Mullay confirmed that both Williamson and fellow Tory Isobel Johnson, a Shetland North hopeful, are both ‘paper candidates’ put forward by the party to ensure it had some representation in the election.

This meant that the candidates were not formally required to “actively” campaign.

With only three candidates due to be selected from Lerwick North, Malcolm Bell, John Fraser and Stephen Leask would have been automatically elected if Williamson was not standing as the ward would have been uncontested.

Mullay said he witnessed Williamson signing paperwork in person confirming his intention to stand for election on 4 May.

He thinks the candidate has had a change of heart, perhaps due to the “press pressure” which has been applied to election hopefuls since the campaign opened.

“Tom had spoken to people from central office,” Mullay said. “He agreed to stand as a Conservative paper candidate, so he didn’t have to get actively involved with campaigning etcetera.

“They sent the papers to me, the deadline was quite tight. I took them along and I explained to Tom that he didn’t have to do this by any means, but he said he agreed to do it. He signed the papers and I witnessed his signature.”

Mullay said he made Williamson aware of the responsibilities involved in standing for council, including the interest from the media.

He said putting forward paper candidates was common on the UK mainland and the practice “reduces the risk of candidates from other parties being elected unopposed”.

It also ensures that the “total party vote for the council, or nation, is maximised”.

The local election already has had one uncontested ward, with Allison Duncan, Robbie McGregor and George Smith all automatically elected in Shetland South after only three people put themselves forward.

Like Williamson, Tory candidate Johnson finds herself in a ward of four candidates which will elect three people.

Both Williamson and Johnson were unavailable for comment when contacted.

Harbro manager and Lerwick North hopeful Leask, who now looks likely to secure his first term in council, said he was made aware of the Conservatives’ paper candidate plans earlier in the campaign.

However, he said he would have campaigned on foot across his ward regardless of whether Williamson wished to stand or not.

“I did understand that there was a degree of playing with with numbers, for the Conservatives,” Leask said.

“But at the same time, they were putting us in a position where we still had to campaign. It made it feel like campaigning would be a bit of a pointless exercise.

“But I was going to go around all of the electorate anyway, whether I got in or if I walked in. I was going to go to see people either way, so it didn’t really affect things too much.”