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Scotland goes to the polls: All you need to know about voting in an election like no other

The Scottish Parliament election will be held on May 6 2021

Scots will head out to polling stations across the country today to have their say on who should lead Holyrood.

For months, political parties across the country have been campaigning for your votes as they battle for control of the Scottish Parliament.

But given the pandemic, this will be a polling day like no other – with even the results delayed to ensure the safety of counters.

Why should I vote?

The debating chamber at Holyrood.

Well, you need to vote to have your say on who you want to govern Scotland.

The SNP are the incumbents, although they did have a minority government, relying on the Scottish Greens to push through votes.

The Scottish Conservatives, led by Douglas Ross and Labour, fronted by Anas Sarwar, are the big challengers to Nicola Sturgeon’s throne, but the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Alex Salmond’s Alba Party will play an important part in shaping the balance of power.

One of the main sources of contention throughout the campaign has been a referendum on Scottish independence, with the SNP planning to hold one in the first half of their reign, if they win a majority.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP want to hold an independence referendum if elected

Other key points discussed have been the country’s recovery from Covid, Scotland adopting a universal income, and the future of the country’s care service.

There are a total of 129 elected MSPs who represent Scotland at Holyrood – 73 constituency MSPs and 56 regional MSPs.

Due to the Covid pandemic, a record number of people have applied to vote in the election via a postal ballot so they do not have to visit a polling station.

According to the Electoral Commission, 1,010,638 are now registered to vote by post, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the electorate (23.8%) and is the highest number ever registered.

These must be returned by 10pm tonight for the votes to count.

How do I vote in person?

A voter enters a polling station in Inverness.

If you have registered to vote and received a polling card, simply attend your designated polling station. If you are still unsure you can contact your local council.

People aged 16 and over will be able to take part in this election.

When you arrive at the polling station, you will pick up a peach and purple sheet of paper.

Election officials count ballot papers at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre after the polls shut in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2011.

The purple one is the constituency ballot, where you will vote for a local candidate.

The peach one is the regional ballot, where you mark for the political party you want to support for the region.

You mark your choice with a cross in the box opposite your chosen selections.

Polling stations will be open from 7am and close at 10pm.

Covid-19 guidelines

Face masks must be worn

There are a number of Covid-19 guidelines – similar to those in shops – must be followed.

Face coverings must be worn at all times unless you have a medical exemption.

Hand sanitiser will be made available as you enter and exit the building.

Scottish Parliamentary election – Thursday 06 May 2021. Please click on link below to read more about the measures in…

Posted by Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday, 5 May 2021

You may have to queue outside the polling station as numbers inside will be limited to ensure physical distancing rules are followed.

A one-way system will also be in place.

Clean pencils will be provided at the venue, but it is recommended that you bring your own pen or pencil to mark your ballot papers.

Insider’s insight

Steven Dongworth (Depute Returning Officer) in 2015

Steven Dongworth, Aberdeen City Council’s depute returning officer, explained how “huge” of an undertaking it has been planning for this election.

He said: “Planning this has been a huge undertaking for myself and my colleague but we are fortunate to have had a by-election, the Kincorth one, so we have a small-scale experience of what is needed.

“The biggest problem we had was finding enough venues with lots of space that is needed, so we had to look at all the halls and community facilities.

“It’s amazing how quickly space can be eaten up by 2m spacing.

“We had to see if venues were appropriate for polling places, and about a dozen got changed due to size problems as they were too small.

“Some we had to go back to using school halls, which we tried to move away from to stop disrupting schooling but we had no choice for some as it was the only properly sized hall in a community.”

Mr Dongworth reassured voters who might be worried about heading to their polling place due to Covid.

He added: “We are confident we have done everything in our power to make it as safe as possible for everyone to come and vote.

“It’s the same rules as it in shops, with social distancing, markers, hand sanitisers so as long as people follow the rules, we are confident there will be no issues.”

When do I find out who wins?

Ballot boxes in Elgin

Well, this is quite a complicated question.

In non-Covid times, the votes are usually counted overnight by volunteers in conference centres across the country, with the winners announced throughout the early hours of the morning.

However, this has all changed due to Covid protection measures.

The counting of votes does not start until Friday, and in some cases it may not start until Saturday morning.

This means the result will be delayed.

The Electoral Management Board has released provisional dates, which suggest that 47 constituency MSPs will be confirmed on Friday, with the remaining 26 expected on Saturday.

Friday results in our area

  • Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
  • Western Isles
  • Inverness and Nairn
  • Moray
  • Orkney Islands
  • Shetland Islands
  • Aberdeen Central
  • Aberdeen Donside
  • Aberdeenshire East
  • Angus North and Mearns
  • Banffshire and Buchan Coast


  • Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
  • Aberdeen South and North Kincardine
  • Aberdeenshire West
  • Angus South
  • All the regional lists

Mr Dongworth also detailed some of the other Covid changes to the count.

P&J Live was evacuated this afternoon after a small fire.
Votes from across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will be counted at P&J Live on Friday and Saturday

He said: “There is quite a lot of changes to the count, it’s not overnight, we’ve chosen to split it over a few days.

“Usually it is a mad rush, to stopping voting and then counting but this has changed to due to the space we need to count.

“Now we have got our biggest space ever, the main arena at TECA, but have slashed the amount of counting staff from 200 to 96, which impacts the speed of the counting.

“Overnight, it would take us about eight hours but now it’s about two full days, with 2m distancing due to the Covid protocols.”

Both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire vote counting will take place in the main exhibition hall of the P&J Live.

Moray Sports Centre

Votes will also be counted at Moray Sports Centre and Inverness Leisure Centre.

Mr Dongworth added:  “There will be fewer people in the room, won’t be as many as usual so it won’t be the same buzz or that but we are confident people will still be pleased with how it all goes

“Usually, candidates are allowed about 20 guests each but now they are restricted to four, we will have 96 of them as well.”