The Scottish Parliament and law making
The Scottish Parliament and law making

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1.1 Voting in Scottish parliamentary elections

The Scottish Parliament Elections (Dates) Act 2016 sets out the rules on elections. The most recent elections were on 5 May 2016. The next Scottish Parliament elections are scheduled to take place on 6 May 2021. The Scottish Parliament is a fixed term parliament and power to set election dates is now devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

There are a number of differences between the systems for election to the Scottish and UK Parliaments. There are also differences in who is entitled to vote in elections.

For Scottish Parliament elections individuals can vote if they are:

  • aged 16 or over on the day of the election, and
  • a UK, Commonwealth or European Union citizen, and
  • resident at an address in Scotland, and,
  • on the electoral register.

Box 1 Registering to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections

You can register to vote:

  • online at gov.uk/ register-to-vote [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , or
  • by contacting the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) for your local area. You can find the ERO contact details using the postcode search on the About my vote website.

In elections for the Scottish Parliament individuals are voting for MSPs to represent them and make decisions on devolved matters in Scotland.

Every registered voter in Scotland has two votes:

  • 1 vote for a constituency MSP
  • 1 vote to elect regional MSPs.

Box 2 The power to set election dates

In June 2015 Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, announced:

The UK Government will devolve the power to Holyrood to set an alternative date for the Scottish Parliament election which had been due to take place in 2020

The UK and Scottish Governments agreed voters should be aware of the length of term they will be electing MSPs to in 2016.

Mr Mundell has written to the Presiding Officer and Scottish party leaders to inform them that Scotland Office is taking forward a Section 30 Order to devolve the power which will allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the timing of the first Scottish Parliament general election to be held after 2016.

The wider power to set election dates beyond the next Scottish Parliament election will be included in the Scotland Bill.

Elections to both the UK and Scottish Parliaments had been scheduled to take place on the same day in 2020, as a result of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

The change will allow the Scottish Parliament to introduce and pass legislation to avoid this happening. Holyrood will be able to set a date which avoids holding the poll on the same day as UK Parliament, […] or local government elections.

The move is consistent with the Smith Commission’s recommendation that power over Scottish elections should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Order has the support of the UK and Scottish Governments, the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer and the leaders of all parties represented at Holyrood.

Mr Mundell said:

‘This is a sensible move which ensures clarity for voters in Scotland by giving the Scottish Parliament the power to set its own parliamentary terms. It will ensure Holyrood elections take place separately from others in future.’

(Scotland Office and Mundell, D., 2015)

You should now watch the following explanation ‘How to vote in a Scottish Parliament election’.

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How to vote in a Scottish Parliament election
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