South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has accused the Scottish Government of having “one rule for politicians, and one rule for the public” after it was confirmed that the Scottish Parliament election will go ahead on 6 May and candidates and activists will be able to campaign across the country – while travel restrictions remain for the public.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday (2 March) Government Minister Graeme Day confirmed that voting will go ahead on a single day, but the counting of ballots may take several.
Political party activists will be allowed to leaflet from 15 March and doorstep campaigning can start from 5 April, if the average infection rate across Scotland is at 50 per 100,000 or less and the test positivity rate is below 5%.
However, although candidates and activists will be able to travel to campaign, current rules preventing the public from travelling across local authority boundaries except for “exceptional circumstances” such as work that can’t be carried out at home, will remain in place.
Questioning the Minister in Parliament, Colin Smyth said: “Deciding to hold the election in May rather than wait a few weeks until the end of July, when everyone will be vaccinated, means that cross-local authority travel restrictions will still be in place.
“How does the minister justify telling the public that, for health reasons, they cannot visit their loved ones, even in the garden, if they happen to live in another council area, but that election candidates will be able to travel—in some cases, for regional candidates, it will be from one side of the country to the other—to knock on anyone’s door and ask for their vote?
“That is one rule for politicians and another for the public. For parties simply to forgo democratic engagement on the doorstep is not the solution.”
Speaking after the exchange Colin Smyth added: “The public will find it bizarre the Government are prioritising having an election in the middle of a pandemic, when a short delay would be safer.
“This decision will lead to people contracting Covid whether it’s activists campaigning or people working on the poll.
“No matter what claims are made by the authorities, any measures such as social distancing at the count will never be fool proof. The decision to say politicians can campaign across the country, while the public are being told they can’t travel will in particular rightly anger people.
“Many businesses are being told to stay closed for public health reasons, yet at the same time we will be opening up polling stations.
“I could understand if there was no light at the end of the tunnel, we would need to have an election because the current Parliament cannot just sit forever, but by the end of July we will all be vaccinated, so any delay would be short.
“I suspect given the backlash, most parties just won’t campaign much on the doorstep, yet at the same time the First Minister will be on our TVs every day.
“There will also be big announcements being made on the easing of lockdown, but because we are in an election campaign, MSPs won’t be able to table questions about them or hold the Government to account in Parliament. The priority for politicians should be dealing with the pandemic, not fighting election campaigns.”