Voters heading to polls for crucial Holyrood election

Scots are heading to the polls to elect the next Scottish Government – though the coronavirus pandemic means it could be more than 48 hours before all the results are counted.

Polling stations opened at 7am on Thursday and will close at 10pm, in an election which could be crucial in determining Scotland’s future within the UK.

Some voters had to battle snowy conditions to get to their polling station, with wintry weather in parts of the north amid a Met Office yellow weather warning for snow across much of the Highlands, Grampian and down towards the central belt.

Voters in the village of Farr, near Inverness, had to contend with snow on their way to the polling station on Thursday morning (Paul Campbell/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, is certain to be returned as First Minister with the largest party in the 129-seat Scottish Parliament.

But she and her party are pushing to try to win an overall majority at Holyrood, in the hope that this could help secure a second independence referendum.

Throughout the campaign Ms Sturgeon has stressed that such a ballot would not take place until the immediate health crisis brought about by the pandemic has passed.

Nicola Sturgeon
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wants her party to win an overall majority at Holyrood (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

Her opponents, however, in the pro-UK parties insist a referendum would hinder Scotland’s recovery from the virus, arguing it is the recovery which must be the focus of the next Scottish Parliament.

With the SNP hoping to win most of its seats in the constituency section of the ballot, elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said there are nine “knife-edge constituencies” which will be key in this.

These are seats held by the Tories or Labour, but where Ms Sturgeon’s party would need a swing of five points or less to claim them.

Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar arrives at the polling station at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA)

The SNP, like all parties fighting in the election, has also been seeking to maximise its votes in the regional list ballot.

But as it won just four of its 63 MSPs on the list last time round, it is more likely that these votes will be crucial in determining the other big question in this Holyrood election campaign – who will come second.

Scottish Labour, under new leader Anas Sarwar, is hoping it can make gains and start to reverse the decline in fortunes the party has suffered in more recent years.

Douglas Ross
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross hopes to repeat the success his party enjoyed under Ruth Davidson in 2016 (Paul Campbell/PA)

But the Scottish Conservatives, which became the second largest party in the Parliament at the 2016 election, will be hoping leader Douglas Ross can repeat the success that Ruth Davidson, who is quitting Holyrood for the House of Lords, had five years ago when the party won a record 31 seats.

The other parties at Holyrood are also hoping to make gains, with polls indicating the Scottish Greens could have their best ever result this time round.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that they can also win more seats.

A group of sisters from Carmelite Monastery in Dysart, Fife, leave the town’s polling station after casting their votes (Lesley Martin/PA)

And just as coronavirus has impacted the election campaign, it will also affect the time it takes for all the votes to be counted.

The need for social distancing, with fewer staff able to physically count the ballot papers, means there will be no overnight counts.

Votes will instead start being counted at 9am on Friday, with some of the constituency seats declared later on the same day.

The results of the remaining constituencies, along with the results of the eight regional list areas, will be declared on Saturday.

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