New Bill to ensure next year’s Scottish election can go ahead
New legislation that would see the dissolution of parliament moved to 5 May has been published to ensure next year’s Scottish parliamentary election can take place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poll is expected to go ahead as planned on 6 May and the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill has been drafted to provide powers, if needed, to conduct the election differently.
The Bill introduces a number of key measures including an earlier deadline for postal vote applications of 6 April, rather than 20 April, to give more time for these to be processed given an expected increase in demand.
It would also give ministers the power to allow polling to take place over more than one day if needed to support physical distancing at polling stations.
Measures have also been included to allow for the election to be deferred if necessary, with the Bill moving dissolution of parliament to 5 May rather than 25 March to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation.
Minister for Parliamentary Business Graeme Dey said: “We fully expect the Scottish Parliament election to go ahead as planned in May, but 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.
“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.”
By delaying the dissolution of parliament, all MSPs and parliamentary staff will continue to be paid until 5 May. In previous elections, MSPs who were standing again and their parliamentary staff continued to receive their salaries through the pre-election period, but those standing down were not paid after dissolution.
The Bill has been developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties and will be considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.
Committee Convener, Bill Kidd MSP 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.
“The government’s Bill puts in place a range of measures to ensure that the election takes place next year. We want to know whether this is the right approach and the impact that this would have for those involved in the election.”
Deputy Convener, Patrick Harvie MSP said: “With the election less than seven months away, it is clear that the impact of COVID will be huge. Many of our lives have changed beyond description and it is right that plans are put in place to allow us to vote safely and with confidence in our election process.
“With plans in the Bill to a change in dissolution and suggestions around postal voting, we want to hear from those who would be affected by these changes to ensure that they could work in practice to ensure that we all have access to democracy.”
The Scottish Government has asked for the Bill to be completed by the end of the year and the SPPA committee is now seeking views on the proposals, with a deadline for submissions set for 22 November.