Statutory responsibility for funding and delivering local government elections rests with councils and returning officers.
The Parliament has approved a number of legislative measures that are designed to help returning officers to ensure that people can vote safely.
In addition, the Scottish Government is funding the system that will electronically count the votes that are cast. My officials are in dialogue with the Electoral Commission about the arrangements for delivering the elections safely, in the context of the pandemic.
Legislation that the Parliament has passed and discussions with the elections community have been informed by the experience of successfully holding last year’s Scottish Parliament elections, and that will continue to be the case.
At the election last May, voters in Balerno in my constituency faced lengthy queues at polling stations well beyond the normal 10 pm closing time, with the last vote being cast at 11.30 pm.
Will the minister say what steps will be taken to ensure that people can cast their votes and to avoid a repeat of that situation at the forthcoming local government elections in May?
The operation of each polling station is a matter for the relevant returning officer.
The returning officer in Edinburgh told me that they have reviewed polling provision in light of the experience in May 2021. That experience was largely the result of adverse weather during the day, which encouraged a large proportion of voters to delay their attendance at the polling place until the evening. All those who were in the queue at 10 pm were able to cast their votes.
For this coming May’s election, each returning officer will seek to ensure that voters can vote safely, taking into account public health advice and guidance from the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, including directions that relate to the operation of polling places.
I thank the people across Scotland who put in a power of work to ensure that the Holyrood election could go ahead safely, and I acknowledge the cross-party work of Graeme Dey to make sure that we were able to have the election. We should not undermine the work that went into that election.
I ask about two key points. Will emergency proxy votes still be in place for the council elections, in case people still have to self-isolate? Will the Scottish Government review the provision of a Royal Mail delivery for each council candidate who stands in the election?
On the point about Mr Dey, I always have difficulty giving credit to my former—or indeed, current—colleague. [
.] In this case, I probably will give credit.
Provision for emergency papers is part of a Scottish statutory instrument that has already gone through; people will still be able to use that approach. On Miles Briggs’s second question, it will probably be up to local authorities to decide whether they want to do that in their areas.
We all want to see safe elections, and I associate myself with the comments that were just made about the conduct of the 2021 elections.
However, the matter is about not just the polling date, but the run-up to the election and the campaign itself. We all want candidates to be able to meet voters face to face—obviously in line with public health regulations—because we know how important that is. Is it the minister’s expectation that the campaign will be conducted more face to face, and can he explain to Parliament how the decisions will be taken about any further restrictions due to emerging variants?
I will get my crystal ball out now and try to work out where we will be when it comes to the election.
I understand where Mr O’Kane is coming from. Having been a candidate myself this past year, I know how difficult it can be for us to sit and not be able physically to go out and do anything. However, I assure the member that, should there be any changes one way or the other, I will ensure that I bring those to the chamber so that members are aware of what is going on with regard to the election, and so that we—I hope—end up having elections that are as close to normal as possible. However, I cannot make any promises. Who knows, after the past 20 months?