2021 Election Campaign: Scottish Parliament elections explained

There are just four weeks until the Scottish Parliament election. Our Policy Assistant, Anna Telfer, explains how the Scottish Parliament election works.

On the 6 May 2021, the next Scottish Parliament election will take place.

Scottish Parliament elections take place every five years, with the last Scottish Parliament election being in May 2016.

The Scottish Parliament election will decide who will govern the Scottish Government for the next five years.


The Scottish Parliament

Since the Scottish Parliament was formed in 1999, it has existed to represent the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament has the power to make decisions about policy and spending for a range of devolved matters. This includes education and training, economic development and health and social services.

The UK Parliament remains responsible for matters including defence, foreign affairs, and immigration. The UK Parliament can still make laws for Scotland, but do not typically do so with devolved matters without the Scottish Parliament’s consent.


Members of the Scottish Parliament

In total, there are 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament, known as MSPs. Every constituency in Scotland has one MSP representing it, with an additional seven MSPs representing each region, these are sometimes also known as list MSPs. Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and 8 regions.

MSPs debate matters of importance, consider and vote on legislation, and hold the Scottish Government to account.


The election

MSPs are elected in Scottish Parliament elections. In May, the people of Scotland will vote to decide who they want to represent them for the next five years.

You can learn who your candidates are for your local area here.

Voters will have the opportunity to cast two votes.

  • First Vote: The constituency vote. Here, you vote for your chosen candidate in your constituency. The candidate with the most votes will become that constituency’s MSP. 73 MSPs will be elected from this vote, representing the 73 constituencies of Scotland.
  • Second Vote: The regional vote. Here, you vote for your chosen party. The regional votes will be counted and each party will be allocated additional members based on these votes. Each of the eight regions of Scotland will elect seven MSPs.

Through these votes, 129 MSPs will be elected to represent the people of Scotland.


The Scottish Government

The Scottish Government is formed of the party (or parties), who win the most seats (MSPs) in the Scottish Parliament.

The people of Scotland first elect 129 MSPs.

These MSPs then elect a First Minister. The First Minister leads the Scottish Government, and choses a number of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, each responsible for a specific area of work.

The Scottish Government is accountable to the Scottish Parliament; and both are accountable to the people of Scotland.

 To learn more about the Scottish Parliament and the 2021 election, visit the Scottish Parliament website.