Holyrood set for a five-year term to avoid clash with general election

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Scots are set to vote for a five-year parliament when they go to the polls in May in order to avoid a clash with the next Westminster election.

• Alex Salmond will be casting his vote a year later than expected because of the new set term for Westminster Picture: Ian Rutherford

The main parties at Holyrood are expected to back plans to move the scheduled 2015 Scottish elections back a year to avert conflict with the next UK general election, due the same year.

First Minister Alex Salmond is backing the move, along with the other opposition parties at Holyrood. Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson has also welcomed the fact a clash can now be avoided.

Scottish Parliaments have a four-year fixed term, and forthcoming changes to the voting legislation at Westminster will see the term that MPs serve move to five years, bringing about the 2015 clash.

Mr Salmond said that Scotland should never have been placed in this position. He said: "Most of us in Scotland are absolutely furious that our pre-arranged election date for the time after next is to be crowded in, almost without thought, by the coalition's plan for a five-year term in London.

"It's clearly not acceptable to have the elections on the same day. We've got the temptation of saying 'look we were here first, you change'.

"But in terms of actually getting something that satisfactorily allows the Scottish elections to have their own space and political timetable, then I think it's probably the best we can do."

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called on the Welsh Assembly to postpone its planned 2015 election by 12 months so it would not clash with the UK date.

He also said the date of the Holyrood poll could be changed by one year either way to avoid a clash with the UK general election on 7 May, 2015. Currently Holyrood has the power to only move the scheduled date of the Scottish Parliament elections by three months either way.

MSPs at Holyrood are now expected to rush through a vote before Holyrood dissolves at the end of next month endorsing the 2016 vote, meaning the next parliament will sit for an unprecedented five years.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill, which will set UK parliamentary general elections for every five years, is currently before the House of Lords and will have its second reading on 1 March.

Labour's Scottish constitutional affairs spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: "This is a problem that the Tories have caused and it is regrettable that they failed to respect the fact that the Scottish elections were already in place for 2015. However, Scots should not have to face two elections on the same day and if that means a longer term for the next Scottish government, then that is preferable to potentially causing a confusing mess in 2015."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott was also against a clash and welcomed the move by the UK government to allow the Scottish Parliament to delay the scheduled election by a year. Mr Scott added: "I worked with other party leaders, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary to make sure this happened.

"The Scottish Parliament can now decide on the timing of the next election before this May's vote. People will then know the parliament they are voting for. That's the right result for Scotland.

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said it was another example of the UK government treating Holyrood with "respect".

"As a group, we will take decisions shortly over when the date of that election should be," she said.

However, it is understood that all the main parties back 2016.

Mr Fergusson said: "I am pleased the UK government has listened to the concerns that the main party leaders in Scotland and I expressed in our letter of 27 January and, has subsequently, changed its position on this issue.

"I welcome the confirmation that our proposal for the Scottish Parliament to be given the option of moving its election by up to a year has been adopted by UK ministers."