Scottish Parliament election ‘may be spread over several days’

Ballot box

By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Parliament election in May could be spread over several days with different age groups voting on separate dates as a Covid-19 safety measure.

However likely that may be, the government has tabled legislation at Holyrood aimed at ensuring the vote can go ahead safely amid the pandemic.

It includes a series of contingency plans, which could also see the poll conducted entirely by postal voting.

The vote could be postponed by up to six months, although ministers say they “fully expect” it to go ahead on 6 May.

Parliamentary business minister Graeme Dey said it was “prudent and responsible to ensure we have planned for every eventuality”.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Helensburgh, said: “Clearly the continuing coronavirus pandemic might have an impact on the forthcoming Scottish parliament elections in May.

“My priority is the health and safety of constituents, so whether it is socially distanced voting over a number of days or a full postal ballot, remains to be seen.

“There is also the option for the Presiding Officer to delay the elections if we are still under significant restrictions.

“Whatever happens, I hope that local people will be able to vote and I hope that they continue to put their faith in me as their hard working local MSP.”

The election is currently scheduled to go ahead as normal in May, but a series of contingency plans have been drawn up in the event of a fresh spike of coronavirus cases.

The legislation tabled at Holyrood would give Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh the power to push the poll back by up to six months, if he deemed it unsafe for MSPs to meet to agree this in person.

It also provides for an all-postal ballot, or for in-person voting to be spread over several days.

This could include different age groups being asked to vote on different days, to minimise the risk of the virus spreading to more vulnerable demographics.

‘Highly unlikely’

The bill would also see the parliament go into recess prior to the election in March, rather than being dissolved, meaning it could be recalled at any point during the campaigning period.

Mr Dey said it was important to have “contingencies” for all scenarios, including the “highly unlikely” event it was not possible to hold the election as planned.

The legislation will be examined by MSPs on an “accelerated” timetable, and Holyrood’s standards committee has issued a call for people to submit their views.

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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