Elections and dissolution

This page contains frequently asked questions about elections and the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament.

Please note that the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for the content of any external websites.

  • When was the most recent Scottish Parliament election?

    The most recent Scottish Parliament election was held on Thursday 5 May 2016.

  • What am I voting for at a Scottish Parliament election?

    You are voting to elect Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to represent your views and make decisions in the Scottish Parliament on a wide range of issues that affect your life. Issues on which the Scottish Parliament makes decisions include health, education, housing, justice, the environment and various forms of taxation. 

    You can find out more about the powers of the Parliament on our website.

  • How are MSPs elected?

    The system used to elect MSPs is known as the Additional Member System (AMS).

    At a Scottish Parliament election each voter has two votes. 

    - With one vote, voters choose between candidates standing in their constituency to elect a constituency MSP. The candidate who receives the largest number of votes in the constituency wins the seat. This voting system is called first-past-the-post. There are 73 constituencies for Scottish Parliament elections.

    - The other vote is for a political party, or for a candidate standing as an individual, within a larger electoral area known as a region. (A region is formed by grouping together between eight and ten constituencies.) There are eight Scottish Parliament regions and each region has seven additional seats in the Parliament. The MSPs chosen to fill these 56 additional seats are known as regional MSPs. Regional MSPs are allocated seats using a formula that takes into account the number of constituency seats that a party has already won in that region, as well as the number of regional votes an individual or party received.

    You can find out more in the fact sheet on the Scottish Parliament electoral system.

  • Who can vote at Scottish Parliament elections?

    In order to vote you must be:

    - aged 16 or over on the day of the election

    - a UK, Commonwealth or European Union citizen

    - resident at an address in Scotland 

    and

    - on the electoral register

    To find out more watch our short animation on How to Vote

    You can register to vote

    - online at gov.uk/register-to-vote

    or

    - by contacting the Electoral Registration Officer for your local area. You can find their contact details using the postcode search on the About my vote website

  • What is dissolution?

    Dissolution is the official term for the end of a parliamentary session. It occurs before elections to the Scottish Parliament take place. 

  • When did dissolution start in 2016?

    Session 4 of the Parliament ended at midnight on 23 March 2016 and dissolution began immediately after that on 24 March 2016.

  • What happens to MSPs at dissolution?

    MSPs cease to be Members when the Scottish Parliament is dissolved.

    During dissolution, they and their staff

    - have only the same access to the Parliament building as members of the public

    - are able to use their constituency or regional office, but only in order to deal with on-going casework for constituents

    - are not able to use any parliamentary facilities or resources for election purposes.

    This is to ensure that all candidates are treated equally and that candidates who were MSPs or the staff of MSPs before dissolution are not given any advantage over others.

    You can find more information about the implications of dissolution for MSPs in the Election Guidance for members and their staff during the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Election Campaign.

  • Can MSPs deal with issues raised by constituents during dissolution?

    MSPs cease to be Members when the Scottish Parliament is dissolved.

    They can continue with casework that they began before dissolution, as some cases may be urgent because of the issues involved. However, they cannot hold surgeries or accept new casework at this time as an MSP.

    If they are approached by members of the public seeking help during dissolution, Members who are standing for re-election may choose to provide assistance in their role as a candidate. This means they should deal with the matter through their campaign office or party office – like all other candidates – and they are notable to use any Scottish Parliament resources to help them.

  • What happens to the Scottish Government during dissolution?

    As the Scottish Government remains responsible for governing, the Scottish Ministers continue in office until a First Minister and Scottish Ministers are agreed by the Parliament and appointed by Her Majesty The Queen after the election. During dissolution, however, it is expected that Ministers will carry out only essential government business and not make any major policy decisions.

  • What happens to bills when the Scottish Parliament is dissolved?

    Any bills that are not passed before the Parliament is dissolved fall. Any proposals for members’ bills that have not been introduced also fall.

    Bills that have been passed by the Parliament before dissolution can still be submitted for royal assent and become Acts of the Scottish Parliament.

  • What happens to petitions when the Scottish Parliament is dissolved?

    Petitions that the Parliament has not finished considering by the start of dissolution do not fall in the same way as bills or motions. However, as parliamentary business is suspended during dissolution, petitions will be considered again only when the new session begins and new committees are formed. Petitions cannot be lodged or published during dissolution but proposed petitions can still be submitted and the clerks are able to provide advice on the petitions process.

  • What happens to motions when the Scottish Parliament is dissolved?

    All motions and amendments to motions fall when the Parliament is dissolved.

  • How can I stand as a candidate in a Scottish Parliament election?

    You can find information on standing as a candidate on the Electoral Commission website.

  • What is ‘purdah’?

    The term ‘purdah’ is sometimes used to describe the period before an election when Parliament has been dissolved and there are restrictions in place on the activities of civil servants. The terms ‘dissolution period’ and ‘pre-election period’ are also used.

  • When are the next Scottish Parliament elections?

    Under the Scottish Parliament Elections (Dates) Act 2016, the next Scottish Parliament elections are scheduled to take place on 6 May 2021.