AMONG the conveyor belt of politicians visiting from south, the streams of campaign leaflets and many signs stuck onto lampposts, it can be easy to forget about the four independent candidates contesting the Shetland by-election.
Ian Scott, Michael Stout, Peter Tait and Ryan Thomson are all vying for the role as Shetland’s MSP, but without the backing of a political party.
Their aims, ambition and views all vary, adding a different flavour to a by-election which has seen parties like the SNP and the Liberal Democrats plough plenty of resources into their campaigns as they seek to fill the void left by MSP Tavish Scott.
Thomson, who is a councillor for the North Isles as well as chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee and the isles’ transport partnership ZetTrans, believes his campaign has gone “very well” so far.
“Visiting folk, drinking endless cups of tea and being fed everything from biscuits to soup while discussing the pros and cons of my manifesto and politics in general is absolutely the best part of any political campaign,” he reflected.
“It was the same during my North Isles campaign.”
Thomson, who has placed transport issues like internal ferry funding among his main priorities, admitted it is “near impossible” to compete with the large mainland “party political machines”.
Their budgets of tens of thousands of pounds dwarves anything an independent could afford, he said.
The total spent on his campaign so far? Less than £85, Thomson reveals.
“You have to trust that people see past the plastic signs plastered all over lampposts, and the nonsense that comes through the post day in, day out saying the same things,” he said.
“Folk are tired of the same old types of political jargon and campaigning. I think folk are aware of my message, what I stand for, what I have achieved and aim to achieve, and my work ethic. They know I am only interested in Shetland’s best interests, not that of a political party.”
Michael Stout, meanwhile, said his campaign had been somewhat more “laid back” than those of the political parties.
He was, in essence, Thomson’s predecessor at the council when it came to transport matters, with Stout also representing Lerwick North during a five-year stint from 2012 to 2017 as well as acting as depute leader.
“I’m very consciously aware that I was never going to be able to compete with the big guys,” he said.
“I think I’m pitching something maybe a bit different than any of the other candidates, in the sense of a track record with my time at the council. My hope is that people will know me well enough and respect what I’ve done in that time. That’s the kind of area that will make a difference.”
Stout added that he has a “realistic view” of what the limitations of an MSP’s job are.
“I’m not putting myself up with lots of promises of what I’m going to do other than actually try to do a competent job,” he said.
“I think that’s in some ways quite a different message from what the rest of them are saying.”
The ex-councillor also said that he “despises” parts of mainstream politics like Westminster and Donald Trump, while he is unsure if enthusiastic campaigning in Shetland by the likes of the SNP will pay off locally.
“It’s not something that maybe deep down gathers respect, and I think there’s something about the need for politics to have people of integrity rather than going for the popular vote,” he said.
Ian Scott, who was elected as a councillor for the central ward in 2017, provides a more left-field offering, campaigning for an end to austerity and the protection of public services.
He said that although standing as a non-political party candidate has its downsides, there is a “certain satisfaction in letting it be known that not everyone has fallen for the neo-liberal austerity programme that all our major parties have adopted”.
“I suppose not being hide-bound by orthodoxy and the opinions of the Daily Mail, I can offer the people of Shetland an alternative vision, a more positive vision and a more realistic vision of how we should see our society developing,” he added.
“We are all our brother’s and sister’s keepers.”
Scott claimed the SNP “failed to find a local candidate for what is essentially a local election”, and while the Liberal Democrats “will be a hard nut to crack…surely none of us can forget their dreadful five years with the Tories”.
He also said UKIP, “to its eternal disgrace, has embraced neo-fascist Tommy Robinson to its bosom”, while “many Labour MPs condemn anyone who dares criticise the racist, Zionist state of Israel”.
Referring to previous failed attempts to stand as councillor, Scott concluded: “I am no stranger to losing elections, but I can assure those with good hearts – the fight goes on.”
The final independent hopeful is Peter Tait, a surprise inclusion on the final candidates list – not least for his reasons for standing.
He put himself forward to promote his belief that the monarchy should return to Scotland.
Tait said the “SNP is by far the more active in their canvassing and leaflet distribution campaign and no cost is being spared”.
“If this was a national election, they would have to spread their resources more thinly,” he said.
“Consequently, there is an anti-SNP backlash which tends to transfer to the favourite candidate in an attempt to keep the SNP out. The smaller parties and the independents are being squeezed.
“This probably will be the continuing trend for the campaign and it is difficult to see the upcoming hustings this week making much difference.”
Tait admitted that some may see a vote for him as a “wasted” one, but he said he always votes on principle.
“Up until 2010 I always used my vote as a matter of principle,” he said.
“After 2010 I could not use my vote for any of the main parties, as a matter of principle, and if I voted at all I could only vote for a peripheral party or suitable independent candidate.
“Sometimes there is no one I feel I can vote for. It is the policies of the main parties not the candidates that make them unelectable. I would therefore ask the electorate to vote out of principle not out of fear.”
There are ten candidates contesting the Shetland by-election on 29 August.
They are in alphabetical order: Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour), Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservatives), Stuart Martin (UKIP), Debra Nicolson (Scottish Greens), Ian Scott (independent), Michael Stout (independent), Peter Tait (independent), Ryan Thomson (independent), Tom Wills (SNP) and Beatrice Wishart (Scottish Liberal Democrats).
Read more about all ten candidates at our special Shetland by-election page at: https://www.shetnews.co.uk/category/features/election-2019/