Minister says changes to election will be made by end of year

Graeme Dey confirmed that discussions were being held about changes which may be needed due to the coronavirus crisis.

The parliamentary business minister has said a decision will be made on the fate of next year’s Holyrood election by October.

Graeme Dey confirmed that discussions were being held about changes which may be needed for the poll on May 6 due to the coronavirus crisis.

He stressed ministers were not looking to delay the ballot, but told MSPs if changes to how the vote is conducted are required, orders will have to be laid down by October.

In his closing remarks, the minister said the Scottish Government was not aiming to delay the election but looking at changes to the poll.

The comments were made during stage three debate on the Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill, where the legislation was passed unanimously.

Challenged by Labour MSP Sarah Boyack, Dey said: “We are carefully monitoring the situation and beginning to explore options for the delivery of the election with returning officers and electoral registration officers through the Electoral Management Board.

“It’s too early to make any decisions on next year, and in the midst of this pandemic the public would be less than impressed by politicians appearing to prioritise their own re-elections 11 months from now.”

Following an intervention by Labour MSP James Kelly, the minister said a “conduct order” will need to be laid before the Scottish Parliament on any changes to the election by October.

Scottish Tory MSP Adam Tomkins said it was “really welcome” that the minister committed to lay any legislation that would change the election at least six months out from polling day.

He said: “We cannot have exceptions to that, we know that we live in extraordinary times, we know that we are confronting an emergency, but we cannot have emergency rules made in a hurry which change the way that representative democracy is run and our elections are run, pandemic or no pandemic.

“I welcome the fact that’s been said very clearly this afternoon.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “I just say that trying to predict what’s going to happen in a month’s time is difficult enough, doing it six months ahead is going to be even more problematic.

“So we may need to be even more flexible in those circumstances, because it would be wrong to be cavalier in the event of a second peak if it was to come at the time of the May elections in 2021.

“We need to be cautious, we need to be careful, we shouldn’t be too self-obsessed about this matter.”

Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “There’s lots of work to do in terms of democratic renewal, I hope that this Government doesn’t wait too long to put in place those final pieces of electoral reform that it needs to do in this session, to enable them as Hollywood elections take place.”

The Bill will change the terms of the Scottish Parliament and local council elections to five years from four, allow some local wards to be represented by either two or five councillors depending on their geographical make-up, and make the Electoral Commission accountable to the Scottish Parliament for work north of the border, instead of the House of Commons.

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