The Shetland Politics History Project is an ongoing body of work aimed at building a comprehensive and easily accessible database of the history of politics in the Shetland Islands.
The information was compiled by James Stewart (james-at-jastewart.co.uk) with help from the Shetland Museum and Archives Archives, Bayanne, Shetland Library and countless other contributors who have supplied information. All contributions from the public are welcomed.
The best place to get started is the table of contents on the right which links to the various areas of research. Alternatively, you can search for specific elections or people with the search bar at the top right. Please see here for advice on finding specific people, as the database has a specific way of naming the pages of people.
As of 2016, the electorate of Shetland have voted on six different major elected bodies. In the present day, Shetlanders vote on the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Scottish and European Parliaments and the Shetland Islands Council. Former representative bodies include the Parliament of Great Britain, the Parliament of Scotland, the Lerwick Town Council and Zetland County Council.
The most recent full elections of the current electoral bodies and next election dates in brackets:
- UK Parliament: May 2015 (can be called anytime up to 2020)
- Scottish Parliment: May 2016 (2021)
- Shetland Islands Council: May 2012 (2017)
- European Parliament: May 2014 (2019)
The earliest recorded history of political ongoings in Shetland dates to the Picts and the Viking eras, with pre-parliament and council deliberation taking part in the ancient Tings, the viking name for an assembly site. Such wass the importance of Tings, areas of Shetland were named to include 'ting' in their name. This is still true to the present day, with areas such as Tingwall, Lunnasting and Westing still carrying the suffix 'ting'. It was at these Norse parliaments that a group of select representatives would meet with the Earl, such as the Law Ting Holm in Tingwall, the site of Shetland's parliament until the 16th century.
In the 13th Century, Shetland fell under the rule of the Parliament of Scotland. However, Shetlanders were entirely disenfranchised from the process of selecting their representatives Scotland's Parliament. Instead, their neighbouring Island, Orkney, held the reigns. From 1235 until 1999, Shetland was inextricably connected to Orkney in national parliaments. Orcadians elected, appointed, and were appointed to represent both Islands in first the Parliament of Scotland, and in the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Westminster).
Shetland in the 18th century was a society which was made up of a small number of elite, and large quantities of poor, uneducated citizens. The Lairds of the land had rule, but even the Shetland Lairds couldn't influence the appointment of the Member of Parliament; it was all choreographed from Orkney by around 40 men.
In 1832, Westminster passed a law which reformed the British electoral system, known as the Great Reform Act. It came as a response to criticism of the existing system, which put the power of voting into the hands of the few. There previously no secret ballot and votes were bought and sold. The reforms still meant that only men who owned property worth at least £10 (close to £1,000 in 2016 money), but these reforms meant that for the first time, some members of the Shetland community were finally able to have a say in electing their own representatives.
This was to the annoyance of the Orkney elite whose power had been weakened significantly. To further compound the anger of Orkney's elite's, the first general election that Shetlanders were able to participate in, the 1832 election, saw the Shetland-preferred candidate, George Traill, win the election again the Orkney preferred candidate.
Starting from 1826, everyone election was contested on party grounds. Despite George Traill being replaced by Thomas Balfour, who was a Tory, Orkney and Shetland was a Liberal constituency for 98 years until 1935. The Conservative party (Unionist) represented the Isles from 1935 until it was reclaimed by the Liberals in 1950. The seat has remained Liberal (and Liberal Democrat since 1983) since then.
On a local level, formal political representation did not begin until the 19th century, with the establishment of the Lerwick Town Council in 1815. An agreement was reached in 1815 to turn Lerwick into a Burgh of Barony, and in 1818, the first meeting and election of the Lerwick Town Council occurred. The early Town Council elected 11 members and within that group, two were elected as Senior and Junior Baillies. The growing pains of the early councils meant that they were not particularly effective, and the electing of councillors was hardly a democratic process. The Lerwick Town Council minute book lists those eligible to vote for each election, with the numbers well under 60 men. Almost every single councillor was a member of Shetland's noble class, or was related to the elite. Elections were held every three years until 1876 when they moved to a yearly election cycle, with a total of 12 councillors serving 3-year terms, and four vacancies to fill every year.
Between the years of 1818 to 1833, the Town Council recognised things which they wanted to change - the poor sanitary conditions, the rowdy sailors - but it wasn't until 1833 when they founded the Commissioners of Police of the Burgh that they began to get a grip on the situation - albeit a very loose one. The problems continued throughout the 1800's, but the Town Council did begin to effect a change, with such things as improved schooling, sanitary conditions, regular water and policing all improving towards the latter part of the century.
In 1889, Westminster passed the Local Government (Scotland) Act which provided that a county council should be established in each county. In 1890, the Zetland County Council held its first ever election, electing 27 councillors to represent the various wards Shetland had been subdivided into. For many in the peripheral communities of Shetland, this was the first real representation that they had experienced. The ZCC was less dominated by elites than the Town Council had been, but initially landowners and other wealthy Shetlanders still held most of the power. The ZCC wards included three seats for different areas of Lerwick, which means that Lerwick was doubly represented. This anomaly was eventually corrected in 1929, when the Lerwick seats were converted into a Parish District Council with much reduced powers.
Both the ZCC and the LTC continued to operate until August 1975 when both were replaced by the Shetland Islands Council. This was a body created under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and had 22 constituencies (6 of which were Lerwick's, causing upsets to some). The SIC underwent various boundary changes and at the most recent election had 7 constituency areas which elected 22 members.
Shetland Election Results
Jarl Media currently has the most comprehensive database of Shetland's political history available anywhere. Every major election and by-election to occur in Shetland is available here. See below for more details.
Lerwick Town Council (1818-1975)
Zetland County Council (1890-1975)
Shetland Islands Council (1974-present)
|Shetland Islands Council|
|1974 - 1976(by) - 1977(by) - 1978 - 1980(by) - 1982 - 1982(by) - 1983(by) - 1986 - 1987(by) - 1990 - 1991(by) - 1993(by) - 1993(by) - 1993(by) - 1994 - 1996(by) - 1999 - 2002(by) - 2003 - 2007 - 2008(by) - 2011(by) - 2012|
Parliament of Great Britain (1707-1801)
|Parliament of Great Britain|
|1707 - 1708 - 1710 - 1713 - 1715 - 1722 - 1727 - 1730(by) - 1734 - 1741 - 1747(by) - 1747 - 1754 - 1761 - 1768 - 1771(by) - 1774 - 1780 - 1784 - 1790 - 1796|
Parliament of the United Kingdom (1801-present)
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|1801 - 1802 - 1806 - 1807 - 1812 - 1818 - 1820 - 1826 - 1830 - 1831 - 1832 - 1835 - 1837 - 1841 - 1847 - 1852 - 1857 - 1859 - 1865 - 1868 - 1873(by) - 1874 - 1880 - 1885 - 1886 - 1892 - 1895 - 1900 - 1902(by) - 1906 - 1910(Jan) - 1910(Dec) - 1918 - 1921(by) - 1922 - 1923 - 1924 - 1929 - 1931 - 1935 - 1939-40 - 1945 - 1950 - 1951 - 1955 - 1959 - 1964 - 1966 - 1970 - 1974(Feb) - 1974(Oct) - 1979 - 1983 - 1987 - 1992 - 1997 - 2001 - 2005 - 2010 - 2015|
Scottish Parliament (1999-present)
|1999 - 2003 - 2007 - 2011 - 2016|
European Parliament (1979-present)
|1999 - 2004 - 2009 - 2014|
Lerwick Town Council (1818-1975)
|1818-1823||Arthur Edmondston||Senior Bailie|
|1823-1827||Charles Ogilvy Snr||Senior Bailie|
|1827-1829||William Spence|| Junior Bailie|
Acting as Senior Bailie
|1829-1832||William Spence||Senior Bailie|
|1832-1844||Charles Ogilvy Jr||Senior Bailie|
|1844-1847||Joseph Leask|| Junior Bailie|
Acting as Senior Bailie
|1847-1856||William Sievwright Snr||Senior Bailie|
|1856-1862||Charles Gilbert Duncan||Senior Bailie|
|1862-1865||Joseph Leask||Senior Bailie|
|1865-1874||Charles Gilbert Duncan||Senior Bailie|
|1874-1876||William Sievwright Jr||Senior Bailie|
|1876-1883||Major Thomas Cameron||Chief Magistrates|
|1883-1890||John Robertson||Chief Magistrates|
|1890-1895||Charles Robertson||Provost/Chief Magistrate|
|1904-1907||James M. Goudie||Provost|
|1920-1924||Robert D. Ganson||Provost|
|1927-1930||John T. J. Sinclair||Provost|
|1936-1941||James A. Smith||Provost|
|1950-1953||Robert A. Anderson||Provost|
All images from 1891-1975 kindly supplied by the Shetland Islands Council.
Zetland County Council Conveners (1890-1975)
|1907-1910||John B. Anderson||Convener|
|1911-1913||James C. Grierson||Convener|
|1914-1917||Robert D. Ganson||Convener|
|1918-1923||John W. Robertson||Convener|
|1928-1929||James A. Smith||Convener|
|1944-1947||Robert J. H. Ganson||Convener|
|1967-1970||Robert A. Johnson||Convener|
Shetland Islands Council (1974-)
|1994-1999||Lewis Shand Smith||Convener|
Local Government Constituencies
Great Britain and the United Kingdom
List of Members of Parliament (1707-)
Note: Members are mentioned upon their first win but not subsequent wins (re-elections).
List of Members of the Scottish Parliament (1999-)
Note: Members are mentioned upon their first win but not subsequent wins.
|1999||Tavish Scott||Liberal Democrat||70px|
List of Parliament of Scotland Commissioners (1235-1707)
Below is a list of members for the ancient Parliament for Scotland. There are some gaps, as the information is quite erratic. The information is from both The Parliaments of Scotland - Burgh and Shire Commissioners, M. Young, (Edinburgh, 1992-3) and http://rps.ac.uk.
|1617|| Robert Henderson of Holland|
Edward Sinclair of Essenquoy
|1652|| Hugh Craigie of Gairsay|
Arthur Buchanan of Sound
|1661-2||Hugh Craigie of Gairsay|
|1663||Patrick Blair of Littleblair|
|1667|| Arthur Buchanan of Sound|
William Douglas of Egilshay
|1669-72||Patrick Blair of Littleblair|
|1678||Captain Andrew Dick|
|1681-2||Sir William Craigie of Gairsay|
|1685-6|| Henry Graham of Breckness|
Charles Murray of Hadden
|Sir William Craigie of Gairsay|
|1703||Alexander Douglas of Egilshay|
|1703-5||Sir Archibald Stewart of Burray|
|1705-7||Alexander Douglas of Egilshay|
- 1975 European Economic Community Membership Referendum
- 1979 Scottish Devolution Referendum
- 1997 Scottish Devolution Referendum
- 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum
- 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum
- 2016 European Union Membership Referendum