Holyrood elections in May should be postponed, say half of Scots in new poll

Just under half of Scots believe the Holyrood elections slated to take place on May 6 this year should be delayed due to Covid-19, a new poll has shown.

The Holyrood elections in May could be delayed by Covid-19
The Holyrood elections in May could be delayed by Covid-19

The poll, by SavantaComRes for The Scotsman, showed a further quarter would like to see a “government of national unity” take over from the SNP in the circumstances the vote is delayed – although more than half would prefer the current government to continue ahead of the rescheduled election.

The Holyrood election in May is under threat due to a rise in Covid cases over winter and politicians believing it would be impossible to conduct a meaningful campaign while significant restrictions remain in place.

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The Scottish Parliament passed a bill giving the presiding officer of Holyrood, Ken Macintosh, the power to delay the election by up to six months and moved the date of dissolution of parliament to May 5 to allow time for any emergency legislation to be passed.

The legislation also allows for an all postal vote or for the vote to take place over a number of days if required.

Half of Scots (49 per cent) believe the vote should be delayed, with a third (35 per cent) believing it should go ahead as planned, with 16 per cent saying they didn’t know.

As for who would take charge during any period of delay, 56 per cent of Scots said the current government should continue while 24 per cent were in favour of a government of national unity, which would include members of several parties. Four per cent wanted to see “something else”.

Chris Hopkins, associate director at SavantaComRes, said preferences on the delay were skewed by political allegiances.

He said: “Of course, the attitudes of the public are heavily swayed by their party-political preferences; 2019 SNP voters are more likely to think the election should go ahead as normal, aiming to capitalise on an increasingly strong position judging by our recent voting intentions, whereas 2019 Conservatives would, unsurprisingly, much prefer to see a delay, possibly to give them more time to turn their poll numbers around.

"Party politics aside, though, the decision must ultimately come down to whether voting and campaigning is deemed safe and, if the election does take place as planned, the parties that can adapt to the inevitable increase in postal votes and lack of door-to-door campaigning may end up benefiting.”

More than half of Scottish Labour voters said the existing government should continue and the same proportion of the party’s voters backed a delay to the election.

Pollsters interviewed 1,016 Scottish adults aged 16 or over online between January 8 and 13 for the survey.

Reacting to the poll, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie urged people to register to vote via post.

He said: “It’s clear these are unprecedented circumstances which present a challenge to our normal way of holding elections. The situation is changing from week to week and it may be too soon to know if a delay will be needed.

"What we all want is for people to have confidence in our democratic process and to know that they can turn out to vote safely.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said they were planning for a May election, while the Scottish Liberal Democrats said the decision was still too early to make. Scottish Labour did not respond to requests for comment.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the First Minister has said, we expect this year’s Scottish Parliament election to go ahead as scheduled.

“In December MSPs unanimously backed legislation to make sure the election on May 6 can take place fairly and safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill contains contingency measures for in-person voting supported by appropriate physical distancing, the potential for the election poll to be held over more than one day and an increase in numbers of people voting by post.”

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