Holyrood 2021 election could be delayed if needed under new Covid-19 legislation

Legislation has been introduced at Holyrood that would allow for next year’s Holyrood election to be delayed, if necessary, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Government still expects the ballot to take place in May as planned but ministers said the new Bill contains “prudent and responsible” measures in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill has been put forward to allow the vote to be conducted differently, if needed.

The Bill has been developed by the Scottish Government along with the Parliament, the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission and political parties at Holyrood.

It includes an earlier deadline for postal vote applications, with this being brought forward by two weeks from April 20 to April 6, giving more time for the expected higher number of mail-in votes to be processed.

Ministers will be given the power to allow voting to take place over more than one day, if needed, to support physical distancing at polling stations.

In case the election needs to be delayed, the Bill moves the date for the dissolution of Parliament from March 25 to May 5, to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation for this if necessary.

Parliamentary business minister Graeme Dey stressed the expectation is the Holyrood election will be able to go ahead as planned on May 6 2021.

But he said: “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.”

Mr Dey added: “This Bill includes measures to help ensure that polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote safely in person in May as planned.

“The proposed legislation, which will be scrutinised by Parliament, also properly prepares for contingencies in the highly unlikely event that this is not possible due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Importantly, should there be a need to defer the election because of Covid-19 during the pre-election period, the measures to delay dissolution will allow MSPs to return to Parliament to take a vote on any such proposal through emergency legislation.”