Scottish Parliament elections set for one-year delay to avoid Westminster clash

8 Jan 16

The next Scottish Parliament will sit for five years rather than four for the second successive term to avoid a clash with a UK general election.

Local authority elections originally due in 2021 are likewise being put back to 5 May 2022.

MSPs gave a first reading to a Bill to provide that the parliament elected on May 5 of this year will sit for five years to 2021 rather than the four laid down in its founding statute, the 1998 Scotland Act.

The outgoing parliament should have been up for re-election last May instead of this year, but the poll was postponed by a year so as not to clash with the UK general election. The subsequent Holyrood election now looks likely to be held on 6 May 2021 to avoid the planned 2020 UK general election.

A decision will be taken during the next parliamentary term on whether to seek a permanent change to the timetabling of Scottish elections.

The four-year fixed terms provided for in the 1998 Act have been thrown into disarray by the shift at Westminster, under the previous UK coalition agreement, to fixed-term five-year parliaments. MSPs are also keen to avoid the voter confusion evident in 2007, when a Holyrood election coincided with local elections, held under a different voting system.

Joe FitzPatrick, the Scottish Government’s business minister, told MSPs the short Bill to effect the delay was “a straightforward and pragmatic solution to the issue of a clash of election dates”.

He said: “We know from our experience in Scotland in 2007 that holding different elections with different voting systems on the same date can lead to unusually high levels of spoiled and rejected ballot papers.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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