THE bitter Holyrood byelection campaign in Shetland has hit a new low with vandals spraypainting “SNP” on the Lerwick war memorial.

The slogan appeared last night just hours after Nicola Sturgeon made her third campaign visit to the islands in a month.

SNP candidate Tom Wills was quick to distance himself from the “heartless attack”.

The graffiti, which has now been removed, was written on a concrete block at the memorial facing Lerwick Town Hall.

Police in Shetland launched an investigation into the incident.

Chief Inspector Lindsay Tulloch said: "Vandalism is never acceptable in any circumstances and damaging a war memorial is a particularly disrespectful act.

"This has caused considerable upset in the local community."

The byelection was triggered in June by former Scottish LibDem leader Tavish Scott quitting politics after 20 years as an MSP to work for Scottish Rugby.

He won the seat with the biggest relative majority in Scotland in 2016, coming more than 44 points ahead of the SNP.

However, scenting a chance to give the new UK LibDem leader Jo Swinson an early bloody nose, the SNP have poured money and personnel into the fight.

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Mr Wills told the Shetland News: “I am appalled, outraged and hurt by this heartless attack on our memorial honouring those who died protecting all our freedoms.

“Needless to say this attack has absolutely nothing to do with my campaign or the SNP.

“Whoever is responsible should be ashamed and subject to the full consequences of the law.

“I strongly urge anyone with information to contact the police so we can find out who is responsible for this mindless act of vandalism.

“Local volunteers are on site just now to see how best to remove the graffiti.”

The SNP's defence spokespersona at Westminster, MP Stewart McDonald, said only the "scummiest form of pond life" would agree with such vandalism.

On Twitter, some pro-independence supporters claimed the graffiti was a so-called 'false flag operation' by Unionists to discredit the SNP.

Scottish LibDem candidate Beatrice Wishart said: “I’m absolutely appalled. There is no excuse for this. “We all know that emotions run high during an election but vandalism of this sort has no place in our community. This is not how politics is done in Shetland.”

Independent candidate Ryan Thomson meanwhile wrote on his Facebook page: “I’d like to express my complete contempt for this act of vandalism, it has no place in Shetland, nor this country. This tarnishes politics here in Shetland and tarnishes this by-election campaign for all parties and candidates. I hope everyone will condemn this criminal act.”

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Tory candidate Brydon Goodlad added: “This is an appalling act of vandalism and a sign of total disregard for those who bravely fought and died for this country.

“It is also a sad indictment of the state of our politics in Scotland today.

I hope all candidates in the by-election will unite in condemning this.

“I would appeal to anyone with any information about this to come forward and contact the police immediately. Those responsible should be met with the full force of the law.”

The byelection has become increasingly rancorous in recent days, with the SNP and LibDems trading insults and accusations of smears and falsehoods.

In the latest row, SNP childcare minister Maree Todd wrote a letter to the Shetland News falsely claiming LibDems MSPs in Orkney and Shetland had boycotted budget talks.

She claimed that “for the last three years, the Lib Dems have refused to take part in any budget talks whatsoever with the Scottish Government”.

In fact Mr Scott and Liam McArthur broke with their party and voted for the SNP budget in 2018 in return for extra funding for local ferry services.

HeraldScotland:

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Finance Secretary Derek Mackay wrote to the pair thanking them for their “continued positive engagement in the budget process”.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “This was a slur on Tavish Scott’s reputation and track record for Shetland. Over twenty years he has worked constructively with ministers of all political colours including the SNP. I have seen him at work in the Parliament for years and I know he did it very well.

“These constant negative attacks are unwarranted and wholly inaccurate. And this letter provides new evidence that one of her fellow ministers agrees with us. Derek Mackay is the one who would know as he was in the budget discussions unlike Maree Todd.

“The SNP need to raise the tone of the campaign and make a positive contribution instead of these negative attacks. Maree Todd must apologise immediately.”

Ms Todd responded: "The Liberal Democrats have taken the decision as a party to refuse to take part in budget talks - until the SNP takes its manifesto commitment, to give people a choice on their future, off the table.

"The SNP has run a hugely positive campaign in Shetland and remarks to suggest otherwise are totally unfounded.

"The momentum of this by-election is definitely with the SNP and many Shetlanders who have voted for the Lib Dems in the past are ready to try something different this time round.”