Scotland Decides: What to Expect from the 2021 Holyrood Election

It is now nearly a week until Scottish voters go to the polls in this unique and important election against the backdrop of the pandemic. With most of the more traditional forms of campaigning having been curtailed, the battle for votes has been fought online and in the media, not to mention the copious amounts of printed literature that have landed through our letterboxes.

This is the sixth Holyrood election since devolution – with the SNP hoping to win a remarkable fourth term in office – and one which will not only have wide ranging implications for Scottish politics but have consequences for the UK’s constitutional future as indyref 2 remains front and centre of the debate.

All of the parties have put forward ambitious policies to the electorate in their manifestos, leading to some criticism from the Institute for Fiscal Studies due to the unrealistic spending pledges. Amidst the glut of lofty promises and usual constitutional bickering, voters will be looking for those best placed to steer the country forward towards its recovery from Covid-19, with pandemic leadership being the other main theme of the campaign so far.

The SNP Schism and the Battle for Second

Despite their internal difficulties and domestic policy challenges, polls have persistently shown that the SNP will be the largest party. The only question remaining is the scale of their victory and whether they can govern alone, or must rely on other parties, either as a coalition or minority administration. The SNP have been in government for 14 years, and will therefore face a challenge in persuading voters that they have a fresh and compelling vision for Scotland – can a party with such longevity in office really convince people that they offer meaningful change?

For the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour, it is a matter of who will win the battle to become the main opposition – will Anas Sarwar be able to transform his slick messaging and polished televised debate performances into votes to usurp the Tories, or will unionist voters put their trust in Douglas Ross to stand up to the nationalists at Holyrood?

However, with these two rookie leaders extremely unlikely to become First Minister, the main headache for Nicola Sturgeon might be the impact of the emergence of the Alba Party, led by her former close associate and mentor Alex Salmond, who if they perform to the upper estimates of their polling, could deprive the SNP of an overall majority.

A Green Surge in the Year of COP?

With the eyes of the environmental world being on Scotland through the hosting of COP26 in Glasgow this November, there has never been a better chance for the Scottish Greens to make a proper electoral breakthrough to back up their spin that this could be their best ever result. Green parties have entered into coalitions throughout Europe, but can Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater gain keys to a ministerial Prius, or will the environmental commitments from the main parties be enough to persuade voters to stick with what they know?

Meanwhile, Willie Rennie has continued his fine tradition of exuberant press photocalls, providing some light relief in what has been a bitter campaign, but the Scottish Lib Dems do have a serious issue to grapple with: maintaining relevance in crowded electoral field and finding a coherent post-Brexit narrative which will resonate with voters.

Halogen’s Election: What We’ve Been Up To

While activists and voters are adjusting to this different type of election, Halogen have been busily engaged in helping our clients engage with the campaign, through helping to facilitate virtual election hustings, and providing bespoke briefings on the main issues. This has included producing a comprehensive election guide focusing on the following:

  • The background to the 2021 election;
  • An analysis of the state of the parties;
  • A list of target seats, MSPs at risk, retiring MSPs, and candidates to watch;
  • The likely scenarios in forming the next Scottish Government; and
  • A full list of constituency and regional candidates.

In the ever-changing Scottish political landscape, it has never been more important that those seeking to engage with the Scottish Parliament and Government actually understand it. If you would be interested in receiving a copy of our guide, or in learning more about our political monitoring and public affairs services, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team through our emails below or on 0131 202 0120.

Raymond Robertson, Partner, [email protected]

John Crawford, Partner, [email protected]

Leslie Clark, Head of Policy, [email protected]