Parliament backs Scottish Election Bill

Legislation will ensure safety of 2021 poll during pandemic.

New legislation to make sure next year’s Scottish parliamentary election can take place fairly and safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been backed by MSPs.

The poll is expected to go ahead as planned on 6 May and the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill – which has passed its final stage in the Scottish Parliament – will provide powers, if needed, to conduct the election differently.

The legislation, developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties, introduces key measures including:

  • earlier deadline for postal vote applications of 6 April rather than 20 April to give more time for these to be processed  given expected increase in demand
  • power for Ministers to allow polling to take place over more than one day if needed to support physical distancing at polling stations, following a recommendation by the convener of the Electoral Management Board

Minister for Parliamentary Business 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 legislation includes measures to help ensure that polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote by post or safely in person in May as planned.

“The proposed legislation also properly prepares for contingencies in the highly unlikely event that this is not possible and the election has to be deferred due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"We are taking steps to ensure the public is fully informed of any changes and how that will affect their voting options.

“I would like to thank MSPs from across the Chamber for working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to ensure this vital piece of legislation is passed.”


Read more about the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill 

To ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation to delay the 2021 election in the highly unlikely event this is required, the Bill moves the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament to 5 May – the day before the election. If the election date is postponed, dissolution will not occur on 5 May, but will instead move to the day before the new (and any subsequently rearranged) polling day. Under normal circumstances, once Parliament dissolves, it cannot be recalled because each MSP’s term of office ends with the dissolution.

If the Scottish Parliament cannot meet to rearrange the election, for example as a result of a technical problem, the Bill also gives a power to the Presiding Officer to postpone the election by up to 6 months subject to certain conditions. The Presiding Officer would have to consult the Scottish Ministers, the Electoral Commission,  the convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, and the Chief Medical Officer of the Scottish Administration in reaching a decision.


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