So I've been asked by a few people to write a post about next week's parliamentary by-election in Shetland - a contest which has rather comically led the unionist parties to start talking as if Shetland is a foreign country. (Nicola Sturgeon went campaigning there, and Labour propagandist Aidan Kerr's response was basically "how dare she leave the country on the day the GERS report is published!") I'm not sure there's a huge amount I can usefully say, because the only people who have much chance of knowing the state of play are those with access to canvass data - but even they might not have the true picture, because there have been any number of by-elections in the past where canvass returns have proved to be misleading. There was a "poll" of sorts in the Shetland Times at the start of this month which showed the SNP with a shock lead over the Liberal Democrats, but it had a tiny sample size of just 114, which means that even if it was conducted scientifically (and it sounds like it probably wasn't), it would have a very large margin of error.
I'd just make a couple of observations, though -
1) Nobody has ever made any money betting against the Liberal Democrats in the Northern Isles. Pembrokeshire is known as "Little England beyond Wales", and perhaps we should call Orkney and Shetland "Westmorland and Lonsdale beyond Scotland". Danus Skene did of course come astonishingly close to winning the Westminster seat for the SNP in the 2015 general election, but perhaps more to the point is that it was one of only three constituencies in the whole of Scotland that the SNP didn't actually win in that election.
2) There's no particular reason to expect trends in Northern Isles elections to bear much resemblance to Scotland-wide or UK-wide trends. Two recent examples spring to mind. In 2016, the year after Danus Skene's near miss, it was reasonable to expect that the SNP would be highly competitive in the Orkney and Shetland constituency seats for Holyrood, because their national vote had not fallen back much at all. But Liam McArthur and Tavish "Two Hoots" Scott surprised everyone by holding the seats for the Lib Dems by landslide margins. It was as if 2015 had never happened. But then in the European elections in May of this year, at a time when the Lib Dems were riding high across the UK and you'd have expected them to be out of sight in their traditional heartlands, the SNP amazingly came within just 250 votes of outpolling them in Shetland. So there's no real rhyme or reason to it, and that might be a point of encouragement for the SNP. The people of Shetland might not be all that bothered one way or another about the media's fawning over the Lib Dems' shiny new Scottish school prefect.
If I was going to give you my gut sense of what to expect, it would be that the Lib Dems will hold the seat on a substantially reduced majority - it has that sort of feel about it. But we won't really have a clue until the votes are counted. If by any chance the Shetland Times poll is correct and the SNP gain the seat, it would be one of the most sensational by-election results in Scottish history, it would further boost the mandate for a pre-2021 indyref by increasing the pro-indy majority from 69-60 to 70-59, and it would reduce the Lib Dems to a humiliating all-time low of just four Holyrood seats at a time when they're supposed to be sweeping all before them.