By Rory Murphy
The safety of campaigners, election workers and the public is central to plans for the Scottish Parliament election, Parliamentary Business Minister Graeme Dey has said.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Dey said Scottish Government guidance will be published shortly setting out what is permitted under public health restrictions. This approach has been discussed with all political parties.
The Electoral Commission is also publishing guidance for candidates for the election, which takes place on 6 May.
Under the plans, leafleting could start from 15 March if sufficient progress is made for the current rules on socialising to be eased to allow outdoor meetings of four people from two households.
Strict safety measures will also need to be observed including physical distancing and wearing of face coverings.
Because of the ongoing threat from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, face-to-face campaigning on the doorstep cannot commence at the same time as leafleting.
Instead, the provisional intention is to allow door-to-door canvassing from 5 April provided the current Stay at Home restrictions have been lifted and the infection rate across Scotland has fallen to 50 per 100,000.
This is the infection rate which the World Health Organisation considers as evidence the pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow safe community activity.
However, activities such as street stalls, physical hustings and giving voters a lift to polling stations will not be permitted for the duration of the campaign.
Mr Dey said: “An enormous amount of work has taken place across our electoral community to ensure that the election in May can be conducted safely. It is as a result of the hard work of electoral professionals over the course of the winter that I am confident the election can go ahead on 6 May.
“It is fundamental for a democracy to hold scheduled elections, provided it is safe to do so. This parliament has sat for a year longer than originally intended and many countries have already held elections successfully during the pandemic.
“It is also the case that eight local government by-elections were held in Scotland over October and November safely and fairly.
“I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all those involved in preparations for polling and the counting of votes and also members of political parties across the parliament who continue to engage constructively in the lead up to the election.”
Malcolm Burr, convener of the Electoral Management Board, said: “Returning Officers take the management of all elections very seriously. On 6 May, we will be just as committed to ensuring the safety of voters, candidates, staff, and others as we are to ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.
“There will be challenges caused by the pandemic, but with the right planning, support from Public Health officials, guidance from the Electoral Commission and the directions to Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers, a safe and well-run election can take place with results in which voters can have confidence.”
For more information on the safety of the election and campaigning read the full parliamentary statement.
In December 2020 legislation to ensure the election on 6 May can take place fairly and safely during the COVID-19 pandemic was backed unanimously by MSPs.
The Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Act, developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties, introduces key measures for safe polling 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
The Scottish Budget, announced in January, includes £34.9 million to support Returning Officers in the safe running of the poll on 6 May. This includes an extra £14 million compared to the 2016 election for expected additional costs.