Everything You Need to Know About the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election

A Scottish Parliament Election is the process by which MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) are elected to represent the people of Scotland at Holyrood. In total, 129 MSPs will be elected.

A Scottish Parliament Election is being held on Thursday 6th May 2021.

What happens on polling day?

On polling day (the day of the election) all registered voters can go to their local polling station and vote for the candidate and party of their choice, if they have not already submitted a postal vote or have designated someone to vote for them by proxy.

Scotland is split into 73 constituencies. A constituency is the area that the MSP who is elected will represent.

You can find out which constituency you are in by entering your postcode on the Boundary Commission Constituency website.

How does the voting system work?

The voting system used in the Scottish Parliament Election is slightly different from the one used in the UK General Elections. The Scottish Parliament Election will use the Additional Members System. This means that voters will make two votes and will therefore receive two ballot papers (one for each vote).

The first vote is for the constituency MSP. This vote will be counted up in the same way as the General Election system known as 'First Past The Post', which means that the person with the most votes in each of the 73 constituencies wins.

The second vote will elect the 56 additional members of the Scottish Parliament. Instead of voting for a local candidate, voters will instead vote for the political party of their choice. Parties will then receive a number of seats proportional to the number of votes they received.

On polling day (the day of the election) all registered voters can go to their local polling station and receive two ballot papers to vote for the candidate or party of their choice for their local area and for their larger electoral area. For example, if you live in Edinburgh West you would vote once for your constituency (Edinburgh West) and once for your region (Lothian). To find out what areas you'll be voting for, enter your postcode on the Electoral Commission website.

Who can vote?

To vote in the Scottish Parliamentary Election you must be:

  • 16 years of age or older on polling day,
  • a Resident in Scotland,
  • a British citizen, a citizen of the European Union, or a qualifying Commonwealth citizen,
  • not be legally excluded from voting, and
  • registered to vote in the election.

Registration for the 2021 Scottish Parliament Election has closed.

When do you vote and what do you need to vote?

You can vote on polling day, on the 6th of May 2021 between 7am and 10pm.

Your polling card, which will be posted to you before the election, will let you know where your local polling station is - however, don't worry if you lose or misplace the card as you don't need it to actually vote!

If you think that you won’t be able to make it to the polling station on the day of the election you can apply for a postal vote or for a proxy vote (having someone you trust vote on your behalf). If this is the case, you will need to let your electoral registration office know about this in advance of the election and registration deadline.

Find out more about voting by proxy.

How do I vote in person?

Polling places are usually busier early in the morning and after school, so you may want to go at a different time when it’s likely to be quieter.

If you go to your polling station, you will receive two ballot papers and vote once on each ballot paper. One ballot paper is a Constituency ballot paper and one is a Regional ballot paper.

On the constituency ballot paper, you vote for a candidate to represent your constituency (local area). Mark a cross (X) in the box opposite the name of one candidate.

On the regional ballot paper, you vote for a party or independent candidate to represent your region. Mark a cross (X) in the box opposite the name of one party or independent candidate.

How will COVID-19 restrictions impact voting?

Polling places will be safe places to vote during COVID-19 and will comply with Public Health Scotland guidance. The guidance in place at the polling stations will be similar to what you've experienced in shops, restaurants and cafes. Things like wearing a face covering (unless you're exempt) and physical distancing will be in place.

There will be hand sanitiser available when you enter the polling station which you should use when you both enter and exit. You can take your own pen or pencil, or the polling station will have clean pens and pencils for you to use. 

Polling place staff will be behind clear screens and will clean booths regularly, this might mean needing to wait a little longer.

Due to physical distancing, there might be queues on election day and there might also be one-way system in place. Keep an eye out for instructions and guidance at the polling station.

Why is it important to vote?

The MSPs who are elected during the election will represent you and everyone else in Scotland in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, making decisions which can affect everyone.

Things that are affected by what goes on in the Scottish Parliament include:

  • Education
  • Health
  • Transport
  • Housing
  • Justice
  • Sport
  • Welfare & Benefits

If you aren’t sure about who you should vote for then be sure to research the manifestos and policies of political parties and candidates before the election so that you can make an informed decision about which candidate or party best suits your views.

Find out more about how to make an informed decision.

Need more information?

Information on the candidates for your constituency is available from your local council.

For details on your local council, visit COSLA's website and if you're feeling confused, take a look at our political jargon glossary.

Further information can be found at:

Find out more information about voting.