2021 Scottish Election: What is the voting process? Everything you need to know


There are now just 100 days to go until the 2021 Scottish Elections.

With many issues set to be discussed across the board, from Covid-19 to independence, the election will be a hard-fought by all parties involved. 

But how does the voting system work and will it go ahead as planned amid the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Here’s what you need to know

Will the election be delayed?

As mentioned at the start of the piece, there are now 100 days to go until the Scottish election. Currently, the vote is scheduled to take place on May 6. When asked previously on whether or not the election will be delayed, Nicola Sturgeon said there was “no reason” why the vote could not go ahead as planned.

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Despite this, Holyrood passed an election bill that allows for a delay and certain changes to how voting takes place – with cross-party support needed to make such an event happen.

Voting could take place over multiple days or even be delayed based on the legislation – with the Presiding Officer also able to delay the vote by up to six months. 

When is the next Scottish election?

The next Scottish election is due to take place on May 6, 2021. 

Scotland’s voting system

Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and each constituency elects one MSP. First Past The Post (FPTP) the same voting system which is used in Westminster, elects these MSPs.  Simply put, the MSP with the most votes is elected, in exactly the same way as MPs are elected to Westminster. The constituency vote is sometimes referred to as the elector’s ‘first vote’. However, due to the nature of FPTP not being proportional (for example the combined vote against the winner is often more than voted for the winner), a counterbalance is created in the voting system with a more proportional outcome. 

The Additional Member System (AMS), based on the German mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, is used in Scotland and is significantly more proportional than FPTP. Such an election system is known as a hybrid electoral system. AMS means that the overall number of MSPs elected for each party is roughly proportional to their electoral support. This system is used to elect the 56 additional members. 

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What is a list vote? 

Under the system used in Scotland, voters have two votes. In total there are 129 members of the Scottish Parliament. The constituency MSP is elected under the First Past the Post system. The ‘second vote’ is used to elect 56 additional members that will complete the political landscape of Holyrood. Scotland is divided into 8 parliamentary regions and each region elects 7 regional MSPs. In the second vote the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate. The parties are then allocated a number of additional members to make the overall result more proportional. The regional MSPs are selected from lists compiled by the parties. These MSPs are sometimes referred to as List MSPs. In general, new parties and smaller parties are more likely to get representation through this system than through using ‘first past the post’. 

Is AMS proportional?

AMS while not perfectly proportional, is much more accurate than FPTP. In  2016 for example the SNP polled around 44% of the vote over both ballots but returned 49% of the MSPs. However, the system was introduced in an attempt to make it more difficult for parties to have an overall majority and to encourage parties working together in coalition or ‘king-maker’ governments. 

Was the Scottish Parliament designed for a majority?

In general, the voting system in Scotland does not usually result in a majority, with the aim to encourage cross-party partnerships. In 1999 and 2003 elections the Labour Party won most seats but did not get an overall majority. The SNP won the most votes in 2007 but entered into a coalition to have a working majority in the chamber. A majority is not a common outcome however, was obtained by the SNP in 2011. 





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