Plans for safe campaign and poll.

The safety of campaigners, election workers and the public is central to plans for the Scottish Parliament election, Parliamentary Business Minister Graeme Dey has said.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Dey said Scottish Government guidance will be published shortly setting out what is permitted under public health restrictions. This approach has been discussed with all political parties.

The Electoral Commission is also publishing guidance for candidates for the election, which takes place on 6 May.

Under the plans, leafleting could start from 15 March if sufficient progress is made for the current rules on socialising to be eased to allow outdoor meetings of four people from two households.

Strict safety measures will also need to be observed including physical distancing and wearing of face coverings.

Because of the ongoing threat from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, face-to-face campaigning on the doorstep cannot commence at the same time as leafleting.

Instead, the provisional intention is to allow door-to-door canvassing from 5 April provided the current Stay at Home restrictions have been lifted and the infection rate across Scotland has fallen to 50 per 100,000.

This is the infection rate which the World Health Organisation considers as evidence the pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow safe community activity.

However, activities such as street stalls, physical hustings and giving voters a lift to polling stations will not be permitted for the duration of the campaign.

 SNP MSP Ruth Maguire asked Mr Dey: 

“What measures are being taken to ensure the protection of members of the local authority workforce who will be involved in the operation of the election on polling day and at the counts?”

Mr Dey responded:

“The safety of election workers is paramount and extensive planning has been done on social distancing and other measures.

“Another thing that we have been looking at, which I will share with members, is the possibility of providing further reassurance by carrying out asymptomatic testing of everyone who might be present at a count. That has been welcomed in principle by the EMB, but there are a number of issues to be considered, not least that of returning officers wanting that to take place the evening before the count so that—rightly—they can replace any workers who test positive.

Countering that is the fact that it is believed that lateral flow testing is of less case-finding value if it is conducted the evening before someone goes to their workplace than if it is done a short time before they attend. The other point is that such testing must be nationwide. The EMB is taking soundings from all 32 returning officers at the moment, and we will consider the matter further when we have received the relevant responses.”

Mr Dey said:

“An enormous amount of work has taken place across our electoral community to ensure that the election in May can be conducted safely. It is as a result of the hard work of electoral professionals over the course of the winter that I am confident the election can go ahead on 6 May.

“It is fundamental for a democracy to hold scheduled elections, provided it is safe to do so. This parliament has sat for a year longer than originally intended and many countries have already held elections successfully during the pandemic.

“It is also the case that eight local government by-elections were held in Scotland over October and November safely and fairly.

“I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all those involved in preparations for polling and the counting of votes and also members of political parties across the parliament who continue to engage constructively in the lead up to the election.”

Malcolm Burr, convener of the Electoral Management Board, said:

“Returning Officers take the management of all elections very seriously. On 6 May, we will be just as committed to ensuring the safety of voters, candidates, staff, and others as we are to ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.

“There will be challenges caused by the pandemic, but with the right planning, support from Public Health officials, guidance from the Electoral Commission and the directions to Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers, a safe and well-run election can take place with results in which voters can have confidence.”