IT’S the council with the smallest population – and one of just three local authorities in Scotland where Independent members hold a majority of seats.

But now the Scottish Greens are aiming for a major shake-up in Orkney’s politics by standing five candidates, the most ever for the party and setting a new record for the most wards covered by a political party on the island.

The Green candidates say they want to be seen as a driving force for “culture change” on the island’s council.

However, James Stockan, who has been leader of the council since 2017, describes the current set-up as a “Nordic-style” political approach which works well by relying on consensus.

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“There is quite a number of people moving in who have only been used to party politics and they don’t quite understand the Orkney way of doing things,” he says.

“We are much more Nordic in our political approach, so we don’t work along the huge divides at Westminster that you have between left and right, or in Scotland between the Unionists and the separatists.

“We work on a consensus of everybody having their voice and really pushing for local issues together.”

Stockan does have concerns, however, that the lack of party politics can lead to Orkney losing out on a national level.

“It doesn’t really work very much in our favour at all when we are engaging nationally,” he adds. “Because I don’t think we are playing by the same rules at all or the same understandings and I think we have been historically disadvantaged because of that.”

Another challenge for the council he says, is that most policies at a national level are developed for more populated areas – and many do not work for the island community.

This includes, for example, the processes used to apply for funding allocations which are the same for the Orkney Islands – with a population of just 22,000 – and a large city such as Glasgow.

“That is totally disproportionate to the outcome of the value of the tiny bit of funding we get to do something,” he says. “So if there is a £5 million fund for Scotland, we only get a few thousand pounds for it. Yet we have got to do all that work.

“It does seem to me as if it is not best value for the public pound.”

When it comes to the issues which concern voters the most, transport issues and ferries are a “recurring theme”, Stockan says.

“If there’s a problem with the CalMac ferries, our own ferries are 10 years on average older,” he says.

“We have been trying to get support from the Government for the past 15 years to replace the ferries and we still have none.”

But he adds: “We all are aware of the cost of living increases, so there is a real mix.”

Stockan says the group of Scottish Greens coming together is the first time such a move has happened on the island.

“That’s a new development. Whether people will think that is a good idea or not we will know on May 5,” he says.

The council administration has been made up of 18 Independent councillors, two members of the Orkney Manifesto Party and one Scottish Green.

Steve Sankey made history as the first Green Party member to join the council in 2017, but is not standing again and no candidates are standing for the Orkney Manifesto Party this time round.

Two of the Scottish Green candidates standing in Orkney are John Ross Scott and Kristopher Leask, with the group producing its own manifesto for the islands.

Scott was previously a councillor in the Borders for 23 years, and an Independent member of the last Orkney administration.

“Technically I thought standing as a Green might be detrimental to my chances, but it has been the complete opposite,” he says.

“I did get an anonymous letter saying they thought I was a great councillor and they were going to vote for me, but because I was a Green they were not.

“But the response has been really good round the doors – they accept change is needed, not everyone of course – but they accept change is needed and I think we have got a good chance.”

Scott says there is the hope of four Greens winning seats in Orkney, but believes the party should achieve two – doubling the party’s numbers from the last council.

“I tried to get some of the other parties interested but they just won’t stand – so we are the only challenge to the Independents,” Scott says.

“We are trying to say to the electorate be brave, and try for change. Because we can make the culture change that you need here in Orkney happen.”

WHEN it comes to examples of issues going wrong, Leask points to controversies including criticism of the council’s procurement process after £1.5 million of stone was imported from the Scottish mainland and the ordering of around 1000 wheelie bins which were the wrong size for most refuse vehicles.

“There has also been a lack of progress on really big issues – so we’ve got a worsening housing crisis with no policy forward in sight,” he says.

“We’ve not got a net zero strategy or sufficient council support for net zero in place yet.

“The list goes on and on – we have made no progress on ferry replacement, so it’s clear there is a need for change and a new direction in terms of both the way we do things and engaging the public and also the drive and the policies of the council.”

Leask is critical of the tradition of Independents, saying it leads to a lack of accountability.

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He says he has been getting a “fantastic” response on the doors and people are making clear their “desire for change and something new”.

He adds: “We have definitely started a bigger conversation with the public on what is the value of Independents, as a lot of people have been saying it is about time someone stood and is very open with it.

“Half the Independents you have no idea what they think or believe or even do when they get in, and then folk are surprised at things happening.”

The political make-up of Orkney Council will not undergo a major change this week, with 30 out of 35 candidates vying to take on the 21 councillors posts standing as Independents.

The question of the potential for party politics to have more influence in future years will hinge on whether the Greens can succeed in beginning to pave the way.

Scotland’s ballots will be cast in the local elections on May 5. Between now and polling day, The National will profile EVERY ONE of the country’s 32 local authorities. Click HERE to see all of those published so far.