Next Scottish Parliament election

The next Scottish Parliament election is scheduled to be held on 6 May 2021[1] under the Scotland Act 1998, although this does not preclude the Parliament being dissolved earlier. 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament will be elected in the sixth election since the parliament was established in 1999.

Next Scottish Parliament election

 2016 On or before 6 May 2021

All 129 seats to the Scottish Parliament
65 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Leader Nicola Sturgeon Jackson Carlaw Richard Leonard
Party SNP Conservative Labour
Leader since 14 November 2014 14 February 2020 18 November 2017
Leader's seat Glasgow Southside Eastwood Central Scotland
Last election 63 seats 31 seats 24 seats
Current seats 61 31 23
Seats needed 4 34 42

Leader Patrick Harvie
and Lorna Slater
Willie Rennie
Party Scottish Green Liberal Democrats
Leader since Nov 2008 / Aug 2019 17 May 2011
Leader's seat Glasgow /
Not an MSP
North East Fife
Last election 6 seats 5 seats
Current seats 6 5
Seats needed 59 60

Incumbent First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon


At the 2016 election the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) lost their parliamentary majority but were able to continuing governing under Nicola Sturgeon as a minority government. At the same election the Conservatives overtook Labour into second place, whilst the Greens overtook the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. No representatives of minor parties were elected to the Parliament.

Three parties have undergone leadership changes during the parliamentary term, in 2017 Kezia Dugdale resigned as leader of Scottish Labour, being replaced by Richard Leonard,[2]. On 1st August 2019, Lorna Slater become co-leader of the Scottish Green Party alongside Patrick Harvie. Later that month, Ruth Davidson resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservatives and she was succeeded by Jackson Carlaw.[3]

Expansion of the electorate

This is the first election after the passage of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act, which extended the franchise to everyone (over the age of 16) who has a legal right to live in Scotland, as well as those serving prison sentences of 12 months or less.[4] This act also allows all those with permanent residency in Scotland to stand as candidates.


Under the Scotland Act 1998, an ordinary general election to the Scottish Parliament would normally have been held on the first Thursday in May four years after the 2016 election, i.e. in May 2020.[5] This would have clashed with the proposed date of a UK general election, although this became a moot point when a snap UK general election was held in June 2017 (a further UK general election was held in December 2019).[6] In November 2015, the Scottish Government published a Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill, which proposed to extend the term of the Parliament to five years.[6] That Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25 February 2016 and received Royal Assent on 30 March 2016, setting the new date for the election as 6 May 2021.[1]

The Scottish Elections (Dates) Act does not affect the legal possibilities for the Parliament to be dissolved earlier, those being;

  • That the date of the poll may be varied by up to one month either way by the monarch, on the proposal of the Presiding Officer.[5]
  • If Parliament itself resolves that it should be dissolved, with at least two-thirds of the Members (i.e. 86 Members) voting in favour, the Presiding Officer proposes a date for an extraordinary general election and the Parliament is dissolved by the monarch by royal proclamation.[7]
  • If Parliament fails to nominate one of its members to be First Minister within 28 days, irrespective of whether at the beginning or in the middle of a parliamentary term.[7] Therefore, if the First Minister resigned, Parliament would then have 28 days to elect a successor and if no new First Minister was elected then the Presiding Officer would ask for Parliament to be dissolved. This process could also be triggered if the First Minister lost a vote of confidence by a simple majority, as they must then resign. To date the Parliament has never held a confidence vote on a First Minister.

Nevertheless, no extraordinary general elections have been held to date. Any extraordinary general elections would be in addition to ordinary general elections, unless held less than six months before the due date of an ordinary general election, in which case they supplant it.[7] However, this would not affect the year in which the subsequent ordinary general election will be held.[7]

Retiring MSPs

MSP Constituency/Region First elected Party Date announced
Neil Findlay Lothian 2011 Labour 28 May 2019[8]
Mary Fee West Scotland 2011 Labour 7 August 2019[9]
John Finnie Highlands and Islands 2011 Green 27 August 2019[10]
Elaine Smith Central Scotland 1999 Labour 3 September 2019[11]
Ruth Davidson Edinburgh Central 2011 Conservative 6 October 2019[12]
Bruce Crawford Stirling 1999 SNP 18 February 2020[13]
Richard Lyle Uddingston and Bellshill 2011 SNP 20 February 2020[14]
Gail Ross Caithness, Sutherland and Ross 2016 SNP 27 February 2020[15]
Michael Russell Argyll and Bute 1999 SNP 1 March 2020[16]
Stewart Stevenson Banffshire and Buchan Coast 2001 SNP 1 March 2020[16]
Mark McDonald Aberdeen Donside 2011 Independent 5 March 2020[17]
Aileen Campbell Clydesdale 2007 SNP 8 March 2020[18]
Margaret Mitchell Central Scotland 2003 Conservative 18 April 2020[19]
David Stewart Highlands and Islands 2007 Labour 9 June 2020[20]
Angus MacDonald Falkirk East 2011 SNP 11 June 2020[21]
Iain Gray East Lothian 1999 Labour 18 June 2020[22]

James Dornan announced in February 2020 his intention to retire at the next Holyrood election,[23] but reversed this decision some months later.[24]

† Originally elected as SNP.


Name Ideology Leader(s) 2016 result Seats at dissolution
Votes (%) Seats
Regional Constituency
Scottish National Party Scottish nationalism
Scottish independence
Social democracy
Nicola Sturgeon
MSP for Glasgow Southside
41.7% 46.5%
63 / 129
61 / 129
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Conservatism
British unionism
Jackson Carlaw
MSP for Eastwood
22.9% 22.0%
31 / 129
31 / 129
Scottish Labour Party Social democracy
British unionism
Richard Leonard
MSP for Central Scotland
19.1% 22.6%
24 / 129
23 / 129
Scottish Green Party Green politics
Scottish independence
Scottish republicanism
Democratic Socialism
Patrick Harvie
MSP for Glasgow
6.6% 0.6%
6 / 129
6 / 129
Lorna Slater
Not an MSP
Scottish Liberal Democrats Liberalism
British unionism
Willie Rennie
MSP for North East Fife
5.2% 7.8%
5 / 129
5 / 129
0 / 129
2 / 129
Presiding Officer
0 / 129
1 / 129

Election system, seats, and regions

The total number of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) elected to the Parliament is 129.

The Scottish Parliament uses an Additional Members System, designed to produce approximate proportional representation for each region. There are 8 regions, each sub-divided into smaller constituencies. There are a total of 73 constituencies. Each constituency elects one MSP by the plurality (first past the post) system of election. Each region elects 7 additional MSPs using an additional member system. A modified D'Hondt method, using the constituency results, is used to elect these additional MSPs.[25][26]

The boundaries of the 73 constituencies last changed as of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, as did the configuration of the electoral regions used to elect "list" members of the Scottish Parliament,.[27] These revisions were the outcome of the First Periodical Review of the Scottish Parliament's constituencies and regions conducted by the Boundary Commission for Scotland; the Review was announced on 3 July 2007 and the Commission published its final report on 26 May 2010.

The Scottish Parliament constituencies have not been coterminous with Scottish Westminster constituencies since the 2005 general election, when the 72 former UK Parliament constituencies were replaced with a new set of 59, generally larger, constituencies (see Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004). The size difference between Westminster and Holyrood boundaries was due to diverge further upon the implementation of the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies, which has not been voted upon by Parliament. Plans for the 2021 Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies for a UK total of 650 MPs have been revealed by the UK Government.

Opinion polling

The chart shows the relative state of the parties since polling began from the last election. The constituency vote is shown as semi-transparent lines, while the regional vote is shown in full lines.

Average 30 day trend line of poll results for the next Scottish Parliament election, expected on 6 May 2021. Results from 5 May 2016 to 8 May 2020

The SSP abbreviation on the graph refers to the Scottish Socialist Party. The party gained its first seat in the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and held six seats from 2003–2007. In the 2016 Scottish Parliament election it contested as part of RISE – Scotland's Left Alliance, but failed to gain any seats. The SSP continues to be included in some opinion polls.

Target seats

Below are listed all the constituencies which require a swing of less than 5% from the 2016 result to change hands, the Greens require a 7.1% swing to gain Glasgow Kelvin and the Liberal Democrats require a 6.1% swing to gain Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. In both cases these are the most marginal opportunities for these parties.