Lib Dems hold off SNP to win Shetland by-election

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Scottish Liberal Democrats

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Lib Dem victor Beatrice Wishart (front centre) is deputy leader of Shetland Council

Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart has fought off a strong challenge from the SNP to hold Shetland in a Holyrood by-election.

She succeeds Tavish Scott, who had been MSP for the constituency since 1999 in what was Scotland’s safest seat.

Ms Wishart polled 5,659 votes, ahead of SNP candidate Tom Wills on 3,827, a majority of 1,837.

The Lib Dems saw their majority more than halved from 4,895 in 2016 as the SNP benefitted from a 14.4% swing.

With 11,835 votes cast, the turnout was 66.5%, up from 62% in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

The Holyrood by-election was sparked by the resignation of Mr Scott, who quit politics in July to take a job with Scottish Rugby.

Mr Scott, a former leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, had held the seat since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Full result:

Beatrice Wishart (Scottish Lib Dems) 5,659 (47.86%, -19.52%)

Tom Wills (SNP) 3,822 (32.32%, +9.27%)

Ryan Thomson (Independent) 1,286 (10.88%)

Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservative) 425 (3.59%, -0.07%)

Debra Nicolson (Green) 189 (1.60%)

Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour) 152 (1.29%, -4.61%)

Michael Stout (Independent) 134 (1.13%)

Ian Scott (Independent) 66 (0.56%)

Stuart Martin (UKIP) 60 (0.51%)

Peter Tait (Independent) 31 (0.26%)

14.40% swing Lib Dem to SNP

Electorate 17,810 – Turnout 11,824 (66.39%, up by 4.31%)

It had been the safest seat in Scotland by percentage of the vote, with Mr Scott winning a 44.3% majority over his rivals at the last Holyrood election in 2016.

The local Westminster seat – Orkney and Shetland – has been held by a Liberal MP of one sort or another for all but 15 of the past 150 years.

The SNP campaigned hard ahead of the vote with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making several trip to the islands, which lie to the north of the Scottish mainland and have a population of about 23,000.

The party stressed the deep local roots of their candidate Tom Wills, who was born and brought up on the islands – while Beatrice Wishart, the Lib Dem candidate, is deputy leader of Shetland Council and previously worked in Mr Scott’s constituency office.

Shetland voted 56.5% in favour of Remain in the EU referendum, lower than the 62% across Scotland as a whole, with BBC analysis of local votes finding that one area with particularly strong links to the fishing industry – Whalsay and South Unst – recorded a Leave vote of 81%.

In terms of the other major constitutional issue of the day – Scottish independence – Shetland recorded the fourth-highest No vote in the country in the 2014 referendum, at just shy of 64%.

The Lib Dems accused the SNP of “avoiding the word independence like the plague” in their campaigning, although Ms Sturgeon insisted on a campaign visit that “a vote for the SNP on 29 August is a vote to decide our own future”.