Scottish election 2021: Will the SNP win a majority? Seven key questions the Scottish Parliament vote will answer

SNP dominance in Holyrood may be a foregone conclusion ahead of Thursday’s vote, but there are still several important questions the result will answer.

Here are seven issues the election will clarify for Scottish politics.

Will the SNP win a majority?

Polls throughout the election campaign have placed the SNP on course to win – or narrowly miss out on – a slim Holyrood majority.

The key deciding factor between those outcomes is likely be voter turnout.

If Nicola Sturgeon’s party can get its supporters out in big numbers, seat projects suggest it will take several seats from opposition parties. More than one million people have already signed up for postal votes – a record – which could also have an influence on the result.

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Will there be a second independence referendum?

SNP dominance in Holyrood may be a foregone conclusion ahead of Thursday’s vote, but there are still several important questions that the result will answer.

The debate over the timing of a second independence referendum may also well be answered by Thursday’s vote.

If the SNP win a majority, the party will likely plough ahead with its proposal to hold a referendum within the next five years.

Even if the party does not win an outright majority, support from the Scottish Greens could still lend credibility to plans for a vote on independence in the life of the next Parliament.

But the job of opposition parties, fighting to prevent a fresh referendum in coming years, will find their job a lot easier if the SNP falls short.

The debate over the timing of a second independence referendum may well be answered by Thursday’s vote.

Opposition parties have raised fears of the possibility of a “wildcat” referendum, which could be held without the consent of the Westminster government. However, during Tuesday night’s TV debate, Ms Sturgeon ruled out the possibility of such a poll.

She said: “I would not countenance an illegal referendum – not least because it would not deliver independence.”

Who will form the main opposition?

While the SNP is almost certain to be the largest party after Thursday’s vote, there is still fierce competition between Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives as to who will take second place.

After years of poor polling, Anas Sarwar’s brief tenure in the top job appears to have boosted Labour’s chances of re-emerging as Scotland’s main opposition party.

The Labour leader has strong approval ratings – far higher than his Tory rival – but the party will have to gain a good handful of seats, rather than simply tread water, if it is to make up the ground it has lost over the past 20 years.

Other pro-independence parties – namely the Scottish Greens, but also potentially Alex Salmond’s Alba party – are set to win seats and could join forces to work with the SNP in what the former first minister has called a “super-majority” – although neither will rival Scottish Labour or the Tories for second place.

What impact will Alba Party have on the result?

Mr Salmond threw a spanner in the works of the Holyrood election when he launched the all-list Alba Party in March.

Unionists and nationalists alike are wary of the toll Alba could take on seat tallies, but the party insists the electoral arithmetic of backing it, instead of the SNP, will help deliver a “super-majority” of pro-independence parties in the Scottish Parliament.

In principle, the logic makes sense, since the SNP’s dominance in constituency votes means it returns just a handful of regional MSPs – but Ms Sturgeon has warned supporters that splitting their ballot risks letting her party fall short of a majority.

Will Andy Wightman win a seat?

This election, Andy Wightman is a candidate for the Highlands and Islands region.

The ex-Green Party MSP, who moved to the area last year, is standing in the race as an independent after stepping down from the Scottish Greens amid accusations there is a culture of “intolerance” and censorship within the party over the debate surrounding transgender and women’s rights.

But while he is one of Holyrood’s most high-profile MSPs, Mr Wightman may struggle to overcome stiff competition from the larger parties on the list.

On Wednesday, Mr Wightman’s campaign thanked Scots who had publicly said they would vote for him if they lived in the Highlands and Islands region and urged them to contact friends and family members in the north.

The campaign wrote on Twitter: "To all saying they'd vote for Andy if they lived in the H&I, we're very grateful. But do you have friends or family in our area you could talk to about Andy, & how his policies can help them? If so please have a chat with them – word of mouth is everything!”

Will Jackie Baillie lose her seat?

Labour Party veteran Jackie Baillie is currently in the fight of her political life.

The current deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, who has stood in as acting leader on two occasions, has held the seat of Dumbarton at every single Scottish Parliament election since 1999.

But Ms Baillie’s grip on the seat has slipped at successive ballots – and she now sits ahead of her SNP challenger by just 109 votes, making Dumbarton the most marginal contest in the whole of Scotland.

Who will be First Minister?

In all likelihood, Ms Sturgeon will continue to be First Minister after the election as the SNP is set to win the largest number of seats. She has also vowed that, if elected, she will continue in her role at the head of the Scottish Government for the current parliament, though has refused to commit to standing at the next election.

It seems likely that experienced politician John Swinney would also remain in his role as deputy first minister – a post he has held since 2014 – but Ms Sturgeon will have the opportunity to mix up her Cabinet once the results have been announced and it is possible there could be some surprises in store.

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