May’s Holyrood election won’t be postponed due to Covid-19, Scotland’s parliamentary business minister has said, but results are expected later than usual.
The election, due to take place on May 6, has been subject to speculation as to whether it will be able to go ahead due to public health measures, but the Scottish Government insists voters will go to the polls.
Last year, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation allowing the poll to be postponed if necessary due to Covid-19, but Graeme Dey has told MSPs this will likely not be needed.
He said: “It is as a result of the hard work of electoral professionals over the course of the winter that I am confident that the election can go ahead on May 6.
“One of the steps taken – the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Act – was the result of close working between all parties in this chamber and our electoral community.
“Among its provisions, the act ensures the ability to postpone the election if required, but I am pleased to say that this does not seem necessary at present.
“It is fundamental for a democracy to hold scheduled elections, provided it is safe to do so.”
While lockdown is still in place, candidates and their agents are able to travel to the constituency in which they are standing, and consideration is being given to whether this may be extended to leaders of political parties.
As with the US election in November, postal vote requests are expected to rise exponentially due to the pandemic, leading Dey to say counting could continue until May 8.
“In relation to the count, it seems inevitable that the results of the election will take longer to arrive,” he said.
“Ensuring physical distancing whilst also allowing the process to be scrutinised means that not all constituencies will be counted simultaneously.
“It is expected that most counting will occur over the Friday and the Saturday following polling day.
“Returning officers will be talking to candidates locally about arrangements and those discussions are important to achieve a shared understanding of what will happen in practice.”
Dey said the convener of the electoral management board has limited the number of electors to each polling station to 800, to allow social distancing to be carried out.
Parties and politicians have raised concerns about how campaigning can be carried out due to ongoing public health measures.
In his statement, the minister said leafleting will be allowed across Scotland from March 15, when outdoor mixing rules are eased.
But parties will have to wait until April 5 for doorstep canvassing to be back on the campaign trail, subject to the stay-at-home order being lifted that day as planned, along with the prevalence of the virus dropping below 50 cases per 100,000 people and daily positivity falling below 5%.
Canvassing will also be suspended in local authorities where prevalence rises above 100 per 100,000.
Other typical campaigning methods, such as physical hustings, driving voters to the polls and street stalls will not be allowed.