We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Scottish Parliament Election: 5 May 2016: Guidance for the Scottish Government, its agencies and national devolved public bodies


Guidance for the Scottish Government, its agencies and national devolved public bodies

1. The election to the Scottish Parliament takes place on 5 May 2016. It has significant implications for the work of the Scottish Government, its agencies and national devolved public bodies.

2. These arise from the special character of Government business during an election campaign, and from the need to maintain the impartiality of the Civil Service and to avoid any criticism of an inappropriate use of official resources.

3. Special arrangements apply to the handling of Government business during the election period.

4. The "election period" means the period between the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament and the election on 5 May. It will begin on 24 March (following the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament the previous day).

Application of this guidance

5. This guidance applies to people working during the election period in the Scottish Government, its agencies and national devolved public bodies. It also applies to staff from the Scottish Government and its agencies who are on secondment to other bodies.

6. The guidance covers the handling of business up to and during the election period. Further guidance will be provided as necessary about handling business in the immediate post‐election period once the outcome of the election is known.

7. It is business as usual until the election period begins on 24 March 2016. Ministers expect, and are entitled to, our continued commitment to deliver the Scottish Government's priorities in the run‐up to the election period.

8. This means that you should continue to support and advise Ministers in the normal way, including the provision of support for Ministerial engagements and other official events. In most cases, you should follow usual practice.

9. The closer we get to the start of the election period, the greater scrutiny there will be of the conduct of Government business, particularly in relation to any significant new initiatives. Cabinet Secretariat can provide advice on particular issues that arise in the run‐up to the election.

During the election period

10. During the election period, the Scottish Government retains its responsibility to govern and Ministers remain Ministers and in charge of their portfolios. Essential business must be carried on (see Note 1 below for a definition of 'essential business'). However, you can expect Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long‐term character.

11. Decisions on matters of policy on which the next administration might wish to take a different view from the current administration are expected to be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to Scotland's interest or wasteful of public resources. You can also expect Ministers to be largely engaged in the election campaign and therefore not want to be asked to make decisions on issues during the election period unless it is essential that they should do so.

12. There are three basic principles to remember and apply during the election period. You should:

  • Remain politically impartial;
  • Ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes; and
  • Avoid anything that could distract attention from or compete with the campaign.

13. The first two of these principles apply at all times. They are set out in the Civil Service Code[1] and the Scottish Ministerial Code.[2] The third is a reminder that application of these principles needs particular care during the election period. The provisions of the Civil Service Code relating to political impartiality are as follows:

You must:

  • Serve the Government, whatever its political composition, to the best of your ability in a way which maintains political impartiality and is in line with the requirements of the Code, no matter what your own political beliefs are;
  • Act in a way which deserves and retains the confidence of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future Government; and
  • Comply with any restrictions that have been laid down on your political activities.

You must not:

  • Act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes; or

Allow your personal political views to determine any advice you give or your actions.

14. The following guidance notes deal with a range of particular issues likely to arise during the election period. They build upon and are consistent with the guidance notes issued in advance of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.

1 - Supporting Ministers during the election period
2 - Freedom of Information
3 - Relations with the UK Government
4 - Special Advisers
5 - Scottish Parliament Committees
6 - Political Activities of Staff
7 - Cabinet and Official Documents
8 - Communications Activity
9 - Consultations
10 - Statistics, Surveys, Social Research and Economics Analysis
11 - Use of Government and other public sector property
12 - Public Appointments
13 - Public Bodies

EU Referendum

15. An EU referendum is currently being planned by the UK Government, though the date for this has yet to be confirmed. Scottish Government guidance for civil servants and public bodies on the restrictions that would be placed on government activity in the 28 days before any EU referendum will be made available, if required, at the appropriate time.

Further information

16. If you have any queries about the application of this guidance, please call Cabinet Secretariat on (0131 24) 46933 or 43579 or contact the person identified at the end of each of the 13 individual guidance notes.

Cabinet Secretariat
Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

28 January 2016