- 11 Mar 2021
This guidance is for anyone taking part in campaign activity for the 6 May Scottish Parliament election.
It sets out the high-level approach to campaigning that should be applied consistently across Scotland. At the same time, it makes provision for different rules to apply between council areas for doorstep canvassing where different rates of infection apply.
The holding of scheduled elections, provided it is safe to do so, is a fundamental tenet of democracy. The Scottish Government and electoral administrators across Scotland are confident that, with a range of additional health and safety measures in place, the Scottish Parliament election can go ahead safely on 6 May.
Of course, campaigning in the run up to elections is both a long standing tradition and an essential part of ensuring a free and fair process. A healthy democracy ensures citizens go to the polls from an informed position and having had an opportunity to engage with the candidates and parties who are seeking their votes. Therefore campaigning will still be an important part of the run up to this election.
However, some of the traditional campaigning practices that people are used to around the time of an election simply will not be possible in the current circumstances; the top priority across Scotland remains saving lives and protecting our NHS, and everyone involved in campaigning has a crucial role to play in supporting that effort. It is essential that campaigners act carefully and responsibly, and that parties, candidates and agents ensure that anyone campaigning on their behalf understands and adheres to both the letter and spirit of the rules.
Guidance has also been published for campaigning in England (where Local Government, Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner elections are taking place) and in Wales (where the Senedd and Police & Crime Commissioner elections are taking place). It is essential that all those involved in campaigning follow the guidance for the relevant part of the UK in which they are campaigning.
Party leaders, candidates and agents
Under the regulations, travel is permitted for work or volunteering which cannot be done from home. Candidates and agents can travel to the constituency or region in which the candidate is standing if the activity cannot be done from home. Similarly, party leaders and the minimal number necessary of supporting staff can travel between local authority areas to campaign.
Leafleting from 15 March
An update to the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Strategic Framework was published on 23 February. It set out a plan for gradually easing the current measures as progress with vaccination and continued suppression of the virus allow.
In line with that plan, door-to-door leafleting commenced from 15 March. The Scottish Government amended the lockdown regulations to support this activity.
Face-to-face doorstep canvassing – permitted from 12 April 2021
Face-to-face campaigning on the doorstep did not commence at the same time as leafleting. Careful consideration has been given to the role of canvassing during the ongoing pandemic, the associated risks, where allowing doorstep campaigning would sit with other non-election restrictions, and importantly how the public might react to having political campaigners at their doors.
The planned date for restricted face-to-face doorstep campaigning to commence was 5 April. This was subject to the virus being sufficiently suppressed, assessment of which is based on three specific conditions.
Those conditions are for the stay at home restrictions to have been lifted, the COVID-19 infection rate as an average across Scotland to have fallen to 50 per 100,000 or less – the number which the WHO considers as evidence that the pandemic is sufficiently under control – and test positivity to sit below 5%. Those three conditions have been met as of 6 April 2021.
In addition, doorstep canvassing can only occur in local authority areas where the infection rate is less than 100 per 100,000. This is being applied on an authority-by-authority basis. See the daily data.
Update as of 14 April: doorstep campaigning was permitted from 12 April in the local authorities areas with a 7 day infection rate below 100 per 100,000. That was the case in 31 of 32 Scottish local authority areas.
The only local authority area in which doorstep campaigning was not permitted from 12 April was Clackmannanshire. However, as of 12 April the 7 day infection rate in Clackmannanshire was 91.2 per 100,000 which means that doorstep campaigning can commence in Clackmannanshire from 16 April.
Doorstep campaigning is therefore permitted in all 32 local authority areas.
We will keep this situation under regular review and if the infection rate in any local authority area rises to 100 per 100,000 or above during the campaign period this guidance will be updated again.
If at any point, the infection rate in a local authority area exceeds 100 per 100,000 then canvassing in that local authority area would have to be suspended for safety reasons until the rate falls below that number again. In such a scenario, doorstep canvassing could continue in the other local authority areas where that rate has not been breached.
Campaigning activity not permitted
Some other traditional campaigning activities such as street stalls and physical hustings cannot take place at any point.
Campaigners should operate only in the local authority area in which they live. This applies even if the constituency or region in which the candidate or candidates on whose behalf they are campaigning straddles local authority boundaries. An exception to this rule is for candidates, agents, party leaders and their support staff (as set out above).
On polling day itself, campaigners should not give voters lifts in vehicles – nor facilitate voters from different households sharing vehicles – to attend polling places. If voting in-person is likely to prove difficult for anyone, campaigners should take the opportunity to highlight the options to apply for a postal or proxy vote. Anyone wishing to apply for a postal vote needed to have returned their application form to their local electoral registration office by 5pm on 6 April. The deadline for a proxy vote application is 27 April. Emergency proxies are also available up until 5pm on 6 May including for those who are self-isolating due to following Government advice on COVID-19. Read the Electoral Commission guidance on voting by proxy.
Campaigners should not physically collect postal ballots from electors to submit to Returning Officers. This is discouraged by the relevant Codes of Conduct for campaigners in any case.
Safe conduct of campaigners
The change to the restrictions to enable leafleting and face-to-face doorstep campaigning is being done to support the democratic process. However, the need to maintain robust public health measures means that the relaxation applies only to people who are campaigning. This means only those who are campaigning for a specific electoral outcome can carry out this activity, including anyone who has been asked by a candidate, party or campaign organiser to participate.
Those in charge of campaigns must ensure that campaigners are aware of the guidance, and of their responsibilities to follow the regular COVID-19 rules. At all times, campaigners should ensure that the necessary mitigations are applied, including the wearing of face coverings, keeping 2 metres physical distance, and sanitising hands between visiting each household.
The number of campaigners operating together should be kept to an absolute minimum and a minimum 2 metres distance should be maintained between them at all times. In areas where door-to-door canvassing is permitted, a maximum of 2 campaigners should canvass together, but only one of them should stand on a householder’s doorstep at any one time. This is also designed to help ensure the security of campaigners, i.e. they can keep in close sight of each other, while maintaining distancing in the street or in communal areas of flats.
Campaigners should not enter a private home but can speak to electors on their doorsteps, maintaining at least 2 metres distance and wearing a face covering at all times.
Campaigners should only enter premises, such as a shared hallway in a block of flats, where absolutely necessary to reach individual homes served by that communal area. Unless it is unsafe to do so, canvassing from within shared internal areas should be carried out by a single campaigner.
Campaigners should not meet with other campaigners indoors. It is safer to meet outdoors, where the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 is much lower, but 2 metre physical distancing should always be maintained.
Collection and delivery of campaign literature should be handled on a click and collect or doorstep drop procedure, as for other deliveries during the pandemic. Only rarely will two people be required indoors at the same location, for example to manage bulk deliveries. Such interactions should be kept to the minimum possible.
Meetings to organise and plan campaigns should be held online or over the phone. They should not take place in person. Where campaigners must attend in person, for example to collect printed materials, this should be organised on a one-by-one basis.
Campaigners who are not from the same or extended household should not share a vehicle. A few exceptions may apply, for example sharing a vehicle to support a disabled campaigner. In such cases, the steps set out in the car and vehicle sharing guidance should be followed.
Prior to any campaigning, participants should undertake a risk assessment. Political parties should provide guidance to party campaigners to support this. All campaigners must:
- ensure they are well. If they have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, they must change their plans and instead stay at home
- make sure they wash their hands often and for 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitiser regularly
- wear a face covering when meeting anybody they do not live with, whether electors or other campaigners
- maintain physical distancing when talking to people, staying 2 metres apart at all times
In following this guidance and campaigning for the Scottish Parliament election, all campaigners, parties, candidates and agents will wish to act – and be seen to act – carefully and responsibly, as the public will rightly demand and expect during the pandemic.
This guidance is by design high-level and neither exhaustive nor prescriptive on every detail of campaigning. As well as adhering to the rules set out here, those participating will have to understand and assess risks to health, and to apply good judgement and common sense in many situations. In doing so they will be helping to keep Scotland’s communities safe while delivering a sound and fair election.
In addition to what is set out here, the guidance produced by Health Protection Scotland should be followed at all times.