Election / Alistair Carmichael re-elected

Lib Dems confident to hold Northern Isles seat

Newly elected MP Alistair Carmichael at Kirkwall Grammar School in the early hours of Friday. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Welcome to Kirkwall Grammar School, in Orkney, where the election count of the Orkney and Shetland constituency is now under way. We will endeavour to keep you updated throughout the night until the election result is announced, some time between 5am and 6am on Friday morning.

With the exit polls just published it looks as though the Conservatives are heading for a clear victory, possibly returning as many as 368 MPs to parliament. Labour is forecast to win 191 seats, while the SNP is expected to be win all but four constituencies in Scotland.


The Liberal Democrats, favourite to retain the Orkney and Shetland seat, are forecast to have just 13 MPs in the new parliament. Others, such as the DUP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, are expected return 23 parliamentarians.

Counting at Kirkwall Grammar School still under way at 4am.

Alistair Carmichael has been reelected as the MP for Orkney and Shetland with 10,381 votes. The SNP’s Robert Leslie came second with 7,874 votes.


The Conservatives’ Jennifer Fairbairn was third polling 2,287 votes while Coilla Drake for Labour won 1,550 votes. Brexit man Robert Smith came fifth with 900 votes and independent candidate David Barnard came last with 168 votes.

Alistair Carmichael said he was disappointed the Liberal Democrats were not doing better on election night but expressed his confidence that he would retain the Orkney and Shetland seat.

And he said he had no intention to put his name forward in a new contest for the party leadership after Jo Swinson lost her seat.

“We have lost East Dunbartonshire, we have won North East Fife, just where it all ends I don’t know,” he said shortly after arriving at the count at around 4am.

“It was predicted at the beginning of the night that we would lose Orkney and Shetland; we don’t know the outcome yet but I am not anticipating that to be the case.”


Referring to the electoral system that systematically disadvantages smaller parties such as the Lib Dems, Carmichael called on all the opposition parties to work together against what looks like a solid Tory majority.

“We are not going to change the electoral system then people who are progressive in politics will have to find a way of working together over the next five years because otherwise there will be very little that will mitigate the hardship of Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street with a majority government.

“I have been working with Labour and SNP over the years. The one caveat that I would put in it is that I don’t think the when it comes to the really big issues like independence and Brexit, I don’t think you can go to the table with preconditions.”

23,248 people have cast their vote in Orkney and Shetland, a turnout of just under 67.93 per cent, slightly less than two years ago when the turnout was 68.26 per cent.

SNP candidate Robert Leslie said he was surprised when he first heard about the exit poll that put the nationalists ahead of the Lib Dems in the Northern Isles. He said wouldn’t want to speculate and preferred to wait until the picture would become clearer.


He said the prospect of the SNP possibly gaining more than 50 of the 59 Scottish seats was “tremendous” and would send a clear message that the Tories could not ignore.

“It is not going to look good if they [the newly elected Westminster government] continue to ignore what is clearly evident through the results,” he said.

Planning and holding the general election in the Northern Isles constituency costs just over £100,000, according to returning officer John Mundell. Appointed as returning officer by the Cabinet Office, Mundell not only hires staff to carry out the election, from people in the polling stations to counting staff on the night, but he is also personally liable in case anything goes wrong during the whole process. Following a couple of audit processes the Cabinet Office will eventually foot the overall bill.

Holding an election at relatively short notice in the depth of winter across two island communities brings it own challenges. Contingency plans have been drawn up in by both island councils, from earlier than usual road gritting to back-up plans for the transport of ballot boxes from Shetland to Orkney.

Ballot boxes from Shetland arrive on board a Loganair Islander plane at Kirkwall Airport at just before 2am. The count at Kirkwall Grammar School is about to get under way again with a result for the Orkney and Shetland constituency expected between 5am and 6am.

Shetland’s 34 ballot boxes are now all at Sumburgh Airport and are being loaded on to a Loganair charter flight to Kirkwall.

That’s the Orkney votes counted – some verification still under way. Ballot boxes from Shetland are expected to arrive at the count not before 1.30am or even 2am. The 34 boxes from Shetland are being flown to Kirkwall on board a Loganair charter flight.


According to the exit poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI for the BBC, ITV News and Sky News, the SNP is expected to to gain the Orkney and Shetland seat from the Liberal Democrats. The exit poll suggests a 81 per cent likelihood that the seat will be taken from the Lib Dems, who have been representing the Northern Isles for the last 70 years. There is a 19 per cent chance that Alistair Carmichael will be returned as MP, according to the exit poll.


If the exit poll is correct the Lib Dems could lose all of their seats in Scotland, including that of party leader Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire.

There were six candidates vying to become the MP for Orkney and Shetland. They are, in alphabetical order: David Barnard (independent); Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrats), Coilla Drake (Labour), Jennifer Fairbairn (Conservatives), Robert Leslie (SNP) and Robert Smith (Brexit Party).

Returning officer John Mundell welcoming counting staff, candidates, supporters and the local media at the general election count at Kirkwall Grammar School