Legislation to make sure next year’s Scottish parliamentary election can take place fairly and safely during the coronavirus pandemic has been unanimously backed by MSPs.

The election is expected to go ahead as planned on Thursday 6 May, and the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill will provide powers, if needed, to conduct it in a different manner from normal.

Developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties, the bill provides for 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 the expected increase in demand;
  • power for ministers to allow polling to take place over more than one day if needed to support physical distancing at polling stations, following a recommendation by the convener of the Electoral Management Board;
  • delayed dissolution of the present session until 5 May 2021, the day before the election, to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation to delay the election in the highly unlikely event this is required. If the election date is postponed, dissolution will not occur on 5 May, but will instead move to the day before the new (and any subsequently rearranged) polling day.

If the Scottish Parliament cannot meet to rearrange the election, for example as a result of a technical problem, the bill also gives a power to the Presiding Officer to postpone the election by up to six months subject to certain conditions. The Presiding Officer would have to consult the Scottish Ministers, the Electoral Commission, the convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, and the Chief Medical Officer of the Scottish Administration in reaching a decision.

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."

He added: "We are taking steps to ensure the public is fully informed of any changes and how that will affect their voting options.

"I would like to thank MSPs from across the Chamber for working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to ensure this vital piece of legislation is passed."

Click here to view the final debates.