Given the extraordinary statements made by the Orkney and Shetland MSPs in recent days about the stance of their respective constituencies if Scotland becomes independent, it seems relevant to look at their mandates in the last election – May 2011.
POPULATION AND THE ELECTORATE
Using 2010 figures, the population of Scotland is 5,222,100, that of Orkney 20,100 and of Shetland 22,400. The combined populations, 42,500, represent 0.81% of the Scottish population.
At the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Liam McArthur, LibDem MSP was returned as MSP for Orkney with 2,912 votes, representing 35.7% of votes cast. The turnout was 8,152 from an electorate of 16,535 = 49.3% (In the 2007 election, McArthur polled 4,113 votes, representing 47.5% of votes cast.)
At the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Tavish Scott, LibDem MSP was returned as MSP for Shetland with 4,462 votes, representing 47.5% of votes cast. The turnout was 9,391 from an electorate of 17,586 = 53.4% (In the 2007 election, Scott polled 6,531 votes, representing 66.7% of votes cast.)
In combination, Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur received 7,374 votes out of 17,543 votes cast, i.e. 42.03%
They received 7,374 votes out of an electorate of 34,121, i.e. 21.5%
Their 7,374 votes represents 17.4% of the total population of Orkney and Shetland, and represents 0.14% of the population of Scotland.
Between them, Scott and McArthur received 10,644 votes in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections but only 7,374 votes in 2011, a loss 3,270 votes, equalling 30.7% of their support.
Anyone can play games with election statistics in a democracy, especially when the lamentably low turnouts in British elections are taken into account. The bottom line is that both were re-elected and now represent their respective constituencies in the Scottish Parliament.
But given the lamentable performance of the LibDems overall in the Scottish election of 2011 and the present record of the LibDems in Coalition Government, the major decline in support for both Scott and McArthur in their own constituencies and the above statistical analysis, it seems to me an act of folly and arrogance to make such radical claims and threats as those they have made this week on behalf of the people of Orkney and Shetland.
Purely on the basis of a narrow mandate they secured last May - without as far as we know any wide ranging consultation with the total electorate - they have effectively threatened to opt out of Scotland, a nation they have been party of since the 15th century, at a crucial moment in its history.
The SNP and the Scottish Government, bluntly, have been less than impressive in their responses to this, and yesterday's statement SNP admits Shetland and Orkney could opt out of independent Scotland and Liam McArthur - Angus MacNeill authorised or not, astonished a number of people, including me.
I hope a wider and more representative range of voices from the people of Orkney and Shetland may be heard soon.