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  • The Youth Vote UK

2021 Scottish Parliament Election Results: Breakdown

The Scottish Parliament elections took place on the 6th of May 2021. The Scottish National Party (SNP) fell one seat short of a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Compared to the 2016 election there wasn’t much change in the parliamentary makeup. One great thing about this election was that it had the highest ever turnout for a Scottish Parliamentary election with turnout being 63.5% which is 7.8% up from 2016.

How the Election Works

The Scottish Parliament is made up of 129 MSPs and uses what is known as an Additional Member System (AMS) to elect them.

AMS gives every voter two votes. The first vote is to elect the constituency MSP. In Scotland there are 73 constituencies, and each constituency elects one representative. These MSPs will then represent their individual constituency in the Scottish Parliament. These MSPs are elected using ‘First Past the Post’, this simply means that the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. This is the same system used to elect Members of Parliament for U.K general elections. The second vote is to elect your regional MSP. These regional MSPs make up the remaining 56 seats. Scotland is divided up into 8 regional constituencies and each one elects 7 regional MSPs. Here people vote for a party in their region and then seats are allocated to make the overall result more proportional.


The SNP is once again the largest party in the Scottish Parliament with 64 seats falling one short of a majority in Holyrood. The Conservative & Unionist Party remain the second largest party with 31 seats whilst Scottish Labour remain third with 22 seats. The Scottish Greens were able to improve on their 2016 result gaining two more seats to have a total of eight whilst the Scottish Liberal Democrats lost one seat and remains the smallest party in the Scottish Parliament with a total of four seats

Figure 1 Scottish Parliament total seats per party

In comparison to 2016 and this election hasn’t produced much change with a total of 6 seat changes. SNP (+1), Conservatives & Unionist Party (0), Scottish Labour (-2), Scottish Liberal Democrats (-1) and the Scottish Green Party (+2).

Figure 2 difference between 2016 and 2021 makeup of Scottish Parliament

As expected, the SNP dominated the constituency vote winning a total of 62 seats which is 3 more than they received in 2016. The three seats that the SNP gained where East Lothian which they won from Labour; Edinburgh Central and Ayr which they both won from the Conservatives & Unionists.

Figure 3 2021 vs 2016 constituency and regional results. Source: SPICe briefing election (Left) 2021 and (Right) 2016

In the regional seats there was some change. In the Highlands and Islands, Labour lost one seat to the Conservatives & Unionists. In Central Scotland, The Scottish Greens gained a seat from Labour. In the North East of Scotland, the Liberal Democrats lost their seat to the Green party. In the South of Scotland, the SNP lost two seats, one to the Labour party and one to the Conservatives & Unionists. In Glasgow, Lothian, West Scotland and Mid Scotland and Fife there was no change. The Scottish Green Party made the greatest gain in the regional seats, increasing their vote share by 1.5% and gaining 2 seats to have a total of 8.


The 2021 Scottish Parliament election saw the highest turnout in the history of the election with 63.5% turnout. This is a 7.8% increase from 2016. This increase in turnout is great to see. There are a number of factors which may have contributed to this increase. Firstly, this was the first election post the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act that passed in 2020. This act saw the extension of the franchise (the ability to vote) to include “all those with a legal right to live in Scotland”. This meant that refugees and those who have been granted asylum were able to vote. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in postal votes. The election saw the highest number ever registered for postal vote with 23.8% of the electorate registering for a postal vote. Thirdly, COVID-19 recovery and Scottish independence have dominated the campaigns of all major political parties which are likely to have driven more people to vote due to their significance for the future of Scotland.

Figure 4 Scottish turnout history


Independence was one of the major factors in this election. All the major parties took a stance in their manifestos of whether or not to back a second independence referendum. The SNP and the Scottish Greens both supported a second referendum and made it one of their key manifesto pledges whilst Scottish Labour, The Conservative & Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats all opposed a second referendum, instead wanting to focus on a covid recovery plan for Scotland. So, what does this election tell us about the desire for a second independence referendum?

The SNP and the Greens have a majority in Holyrood with a total of 72 seats from 129. The independence coalition of the SNP and Greens increased their mandate by increasing their majority from 69 seats in 2016 to 72. This may suggest that there is a clear mandate for a second independence referendum.

Figure 5 Scottish Parliament, Unionist vs Independence vs non-voters. Source @electpoliticsuk

However, figure 5 suggests something else potentially. Although the pro-independence parties (SNP and Greens) hold the majority of seats in Holyrood, the unionist parties (Scottish Labour, The Conservative & Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats) received 43,049 more votes collectively. Does this then show in fact that there is no mandate for a second independence referendum?

Either way it seems that a second referendum will dominate the parliamentary proceedings alongside the country’s recovery from COVID-19. It does not seem like the country is clearly leaning one way or another on the matter.

This was a very important election for the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. It showed once again that the SNP still dominates in Scotland. The SNP has been the largest party in Scotland since the 2007 election and the 2021 election continued this trend. Youth turnout is something that is often difficult to calculate for these devolved and local elections because age is not collected on the electoral register. However, if data on youth turnout is published, we will keep you updated.

Jonas Volkwein, Head of Policy & News Analysis

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