Holyrood election next May could be held over 'several days'

The Holyrood election next May could be staged over several days to ensure the vote takes place safely, under news laws set out today.
People gather inside the Scottish ParliamentPeople gather inside the Scottish Parliament
People gather inside the Scottish Parliament

Changes will also be made to widen the use of postal voting for the election - even opening the door to the entire vote being carried out by mail ballots in the unlikely event that it is postponed..

The vote is still expected to go ahead as scheduled on May 6, but the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill has been drafted to provide powers which could see it delayed if necessary.

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Parliamentary business minister Graeme Dey said: “We fully expect the Scottish Parliament election to go ahead as planned in May, but it is prudent and responsible to ensure we have planned for every eventuality so that the poll can be conducted safely and fairly during this pandemic.

“This Bill includes measures to help ensure that polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote safely in person in May as planned."

The legislation was developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties.

It includes provisions for earlier deadlines for postal votes of April 6 rather than April 20 to give more time for these to be processed given expected increase in demand.

Ministers will also have the power to allow polling to take place over more than one day if needed to support physical distancing at polling stations.

Measures have also been included to cater for the "highly unlikely" prospect of the election being postponed. This would see the formal dissolution of Parliament shifted from March 25 to May 5, to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation to delay the election if required.

The Bill will now be scrutinised by Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments committee before being passed by MSPs.

Committee convener Bill Kidd said: “We are living in extraordinary times and the election in May will be like no other. However, it is important that the voices of the electorate are heard and plans are put in place so that this can go ahead as planned.

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“The Government’s Bill puts in place a range of measures to ensure that the election takes place next year. We want to know whether this is the right approach and the impact that this would have for those involved in the election.”

The committee is seeking views on the measures, which would allow ministers to impose distancing measures in polling booths by regulation, as well as the plan to move the postal voting deadline forward to April 6.

Deputy convener Patrick Harvie said: “With the election less than seven months away, it is clear that the impact of Covid will be huge. Many of our lives have changed beyond description and it is right that plans are put in place to allow us to vote safely and with confidence in our election process.

“With plans in the Bill to a change in dissolution and suggestions around postal voting, we want to hear from those who would be affected by these changes to ensure that they could work in practice to ensure that we all have access to democracy.”

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