Politics

Scottish Parliament 2021: SNP leads ahead of election

The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.
Source: User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Morgan Perry | Political Editor

It isn’t just Wales heading to the polls on Thursday, May 6. Scotland will also step up to the ballot box and elect candidates to sit in the sixth Scottish Parliament. 

The Scottish National Party (SNP) is currently in government and continues to lead in the most recent polls. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is hoping to remain SNP leader and First Minister into a third parliament. The party has been governing with a minority government – holding 61 of the 65 seats required for a majority – though has been receiving support from the Green Party, who are also pro-independence and have 5 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). 

The Scottish Conservative Party is the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament and is currently led by, MP for Moray, Douglas Ross. He was elected to the role in August 2020, after running uncontested in the aftermath of former leader Jackson Carlaw’s resignation. 

Scottish Labour has not been without its leadership challenges, either. Former leader, Kezia Dugdale resigned in 2017, and was replaced by Richard Leonard. In January 2021, he resigned, and Anas Sawar was elected the new leader, less than three months before the election. After achieving close to 50 percent of the vote in the first Scottish Parliament in 1999, the party has a large amount of ground to make up, with 42 seats required for a majority. 

The race was further complicated in early April, with the announcement by former SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond, that he would be fielding candidates under his new party: Alba. The pro-independence party is seeking to create an independence supermajority by capitalising on regional seats that can’t be won by the SNP. They’ve already managed to win around two MPs at Westminster.

Also new on the scene are the Reform Party – born out of the ashes of the Brexit Party – and, former Labour MP, George Galloway’s All for Unity Party, which opposes an independent Scotland. Like Alba, both are only competing for regional list seats. 

The seven candidates who are all hoping their party will lead the next Scottish Parliament.

Above: the seven candidates who hope to be leading the next Scottish Parliament. Left-to-right: Nicola Sturgeon (Source: Rebecca Harms, via. Flickr), Douglas Ross (Source: David Woolfall, via. Wikimedia Commons), Anas Sawar (Source: The Scottish Parliament, via. Wikimedia Commons), Willie Rennie (Source: The Scottish Parliament, via. Wikimedia Commons), Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvey (Source: Anthony Carrol, via. Wikimedia Commons) and Alex Salmond (The Scottish Government, via. Flickr). 

ELECTORAL SYSTEM

Scots are due to elect 129 MSPs at this election. And, in a similar way to Wales, Scotland uses a mix of constituency and regional ballots (the Additional Member System).  

There are a total of 8 Scottish regions, which contain 73 constituencies. Constituency seats are elected using First Past the Post (in the same way as a UK General Election). 

Seven MSPs are also elected per region, using a modified version of the D’Hondt method, which considers the number of seats a party has won at the constituency level. The result is near proportionality.

Both prisoners serving sentences under 12 months, and foreign nations with the permanent right to remain in the UK will be able to vote for the first time at this election. 16 and 17-year-olds have been permitted to vote in regional elections since 2014. 


WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES?

Scottish independence

Despite the indpendence referedum in 2014, the issue of Scottish independence continues to rear its head. Alongside Alba’s promises for a pro-independence supermajority, the SNP has promised to hold a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK, if it wins a majority. 

The latest poll on Scottish independence shows slipping support for breaking away from the Union; 44 percent of voters confirmed they would vote in favour, with 45 percent opposed and 11 percent undecided. Conservative leader, Ross also opposes a second referendum, and has encouraged voters to use their list vote to “avoid wasting any more time” on the issue. 

Sawar’s Labour has promised not to support a referendum in the next five years, though the Green Party are pro-independence. The Liberal Democrats will also oppose a second referendum. 

Post-COVID recovery

The SNP has even included independence as a key part of its post-COVID recovery and has promised to keep travel and public health restrictions in place for as long as possible. 

The Conservatives have promised to tackle the NHS backlog and will funnel £120m into ensuring that Scottish school pupils are able to catch up. Labour, meanwhile, emphasises recovery in their manifesto: jobs recovery, NHS recovery, education recovery, community recovery and climate recovery.

The Liberal Democrats are in tune with Labour, who propose putting education first in Scotland’s post-pandemic recovery. The Greens, meanwhile, have promised a public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic. 

Health 

Coronavirus has tested public health services across the UK. In addition to a four percent pay rise for NHS staff, the SNP has promised an increase in frontline spending of 20 percent to “support and renew” the NHS. 

More money is also pledged by the Conservatives, increasing funding by at least £2bn by 2025/26. Mental health funding will also be increased to ten percent of the healthcare budget. Similar promises for mental health have come from the Green Party and Labour. 

The Liberal Democrats have promised to treat drug abuse as a health problem, rather than prosecuting those who fall victim to it. The pledge comes after Nicola Sturgeon said her party had “taken their eye off the ball” when it came to the country’s high rate of drug-related deaths. 

Education

There was a scandal in Scotland over last year’s Highers results, leading to a vote of no confidence in Deputy First Minister and Minister for Education and Skills, John Swinney.  

In response, under an SNP government, all students will be provided with devices to allow them to get online, alongside free breakfast and lunch clubs for all primary-aged children (similar to plans promised by the Green Party). 

Pledging the same amount as the SNP, the Conservatives have promised £1bn to schools over the next five years, but – somewhat traditionally – will oppose the cancellation of any in-person exams. 

Labour will implement a minimum student income, and a re-sit guarantee for pupils whose assessments were affected by the pandemic. The Liberal Democrats will encourage outdoor learning, and play-based learning for children under seven, modelled on a successful Nordic model.


WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?

The SNP continues to lead the polls at both the constituency and regional level. That said, the party’s lead at a constituency level does appear to have been impacted by the launch of Salmond’s Alba Party. 

The most recent poll has the SNP at 36 percent for the regional vote, down from between 45 and 50 percent last summer. Alba, meanwhile, has polled as high as six percent in the most recent poll.

The incumbent party maintains the lead at the top of the constituency ballot, too, with 45 percent in the latest poll. Labour is second, with 22 percent, Conservatives third with 20 percent. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party hold eight percent and four percent, respectively. 

A diagram of the predicted Scottish Parliament, according to the latest poll.

As a result, based on this poll, the predicted seat distribution is as follows:

SNP – 61 (-2)
Conservatives – 24 (-7)
Labour – 20 (-4)
Greens – 11 (+5)
Alba – 8 (+8)
Liberal Democrats – 5 (=)

(Changes with 2016 Election. Poll by Panelbase for ScotGoesPop).

In the same poll, the number of seats belonging to pro-independence parties outweigh that of pro-union parties, 62 percent to 38 percent. 


Despite criticism of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon – and her party – remain popular. The post-COVID recovery is important to all of the main parties, and will obviously be important to Scots, too. The most recent polling shows that voters appear to trust the SNP enough to lead them out of the pandemic. 

The introduction of the Alba Party appears to have aided the SNP in its goal of Scottish independence, though some have been quick to criticise Salmond’s credentials in light of a recent sexual assault investigation. If Alba and the SNP win enough seats, independence will be hard for the UK Government to ignore. 

Both the Conservatives and Labour appear locked out of ruling majorities at Holyrood, with the latter’s performance reflecting generally lacklustre polling across the UK. Meanwhile many loyal Scottish Liberal Democrats – once an important part of Scottish politics – will be disappointed to see them failing to meet even double figures. 

Like in Wales, counting will not take place overnight, as is tradition. This means we’ll need to wait even longer to find out which parties will shape Scottish politics over the next five years.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

Politics Morgan Perry

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