THE leader of Orkney Islands Council has announced he is standing down as a councillor, triggering a by-election.

James Stockan, an independent councillor, has led the local authority for six years and has been a member for two decades.

He made headlines last summer after suggesting Orkney should leave the UK and become a Norwegian territory. 

Stockan said it was the "right time" to quit his role after 20 years serving the local community. 

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He will stand down as representative for Stromness and South Isles on February 5, with a by-election held for the ward and the process to name a new leader of the authority announced in due course.

“I’ve been planning my retirement for some time and see this as the right time to make that change," Stockan said in a statement announcing his intention to resign.

"Big life decisions like this can come easy and they can come hard — and there’s elements of both here for me.

“Having been part of the council for 20 years, School Place and the goings on in the council chamber has become an intrinsic part of mine and my family’s lives.

“In that time, I’ve done my very best to serve the people and interests of Orkney well — creating plenty of ripples in the corridors of power in Edinburgh and London along the way.

“It has been a tremendous privilege to have had that responsibility bestowed upon me not just by my fellow councillors, but by people in Orkney too.

“There comes a time when there’s a natural depletion of energy required to give your very best to that level of responsibility though — and for me, after 20 years, that time has now come."

He added that he was "confident in the ability" of his fellow councillors, the majority of whom are independents, to "take the reins". 

Stockan was first elected to the authority in 2003, served as chair of economic development from 2005 to 2007 and then vice convener from 2007 to May 2012.

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He became chairman of the development and infrastructure committee from 2012 to 2017.

Following this he was elected as Orkney Island Council’s first political leader in 2017, taking on the role again after the 2022 election.

Oliver Reid, Orkney Islands Council's chief executive, said: “I’ve been incredibly lucky as a new chief executive to have had a political leader like James, who is an exemplar to others in terms of his depth of understanding of local government issues and in terms of his tenacity in fighting Orkney’s corner in the national arena.

“His influence, experience and dedication are unrivalled — I’ve learnt a great deal from him and will miss his wise support.

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“James has put a great deal of effort over the last couple of years into encouraging and supporting fellow elected members in their development — and this should ensure a smooth transition when the council elects a new political leader.”

Cosla president Shona Morrison (above) paid tribute to Stockan following his announcement, adding that he will be a "huge loss" to those in Orkney as well as those at the council umbrella body as he was a "champion of the islands and rural communities".

"Everyone at Cosla holds Councillor Stockan in the highest regard," she said. 

"He is a valued and very well-respected figure who has been a formidable leader of the Independent Group here at Cosla.

“On a personal level, he has been a valued colleague and a great support when I first took over as Cosla president.  James is always very active and engaged and works hard to seek consensus for the benefit of communities, which is at the heart of Cosla’s objectives.

“We will all miss his expertise and good humour, but I wish him the best in whatever he chooses to do next.”