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Scottish Parliament Election 2021: How to Vote


The Scottish Parliament elections are taking place on the 6th of May 2021.


The Scottish Parliament represents the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament is located in Edinburgh and is sometimes referred to as Holyrood.

The parliament has power to make decisions and pass laws in a wide range of areas known as devolved matters:

  • Economic development

  • Education and training

  • The environment

  • Farming, fishing and forestry

  • Health and social care

  • Housing

  • Law and order

  • Local government

  • Police and fire services

  • Planning

  • Sports and arts

  • Tourism

The UK government can still make laws for Scotland but will not normally make a law on a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The UK parliament is still responsible for what are known as reserved matters which include areas such as defence, foreign affairs and immigration.

In this election you have two votes. One to elect a Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) who will represent your local constituency and one who will represent your region as a whole.

The Scottish government is typically formed from the party or parties who won the most seats at the election. The government is made up of its leader, the First Minister, and a number of Scottish Ministers.

Each Minister has a specific area of work they are responsible for. One example of this would be the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who is responsible for things such as the police, human rights, prisons etc. Ministers will be asked questions from other MSPs about their policies and activities.

How does the election work?

The Scottish Parliament has 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.

Who can Vote?

To be able to vote, you must be:

  • Aged 16 or over on the 6th of May, and

  • A British or Irish citizen, or

  • A Commonwealth citizen, who had leave to remain in the UK or who does not require to leave to remain in the UK, or

  • A citizen of another European Union country, or

  • A qualifying foreign citizen, who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or who does not need such permission.

That means that even if you are a student from outside of Scotland who is studying in Scotland and you fall into one of the above categories you are eligible to vote.

How can I vote?

The registration deadline is April 19th

To register online to vote you can visit:

You can vote in person. To find out information about your nearest polling station visit your local council’s website.

Voting by post will be a very popular choice this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You should complete and return your postal vote as soon as you can so that it can be processed. Your postal vote must be received by 10pm on Thursday the 6th of May. To apply for a postal vote, follow this link:

You can get someone to vote on your behalf, which is known as a proxy vote, as long as that person is registered to vote in the Scottish Parliament election. The deadline to apply for a proxy vote is 5pm on Tuesday the 27th of April. To apply for a proxy vote you can find the forms here:

Jonas Volkwein, Head of Policy & News Analysis

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