This means the next but one Scottish parliamentary election will almost certainly be on May 5, 2016.
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Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of constitutional matters, has sanctioned a one-off five-year term for the Scottish Parliament after protests from across Scotland’s political parties were raised that having a General Election on the same day as the Holyrood poll would mean the former would totally overshadow the latter.
The problem arose because in the talks to set up the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats pushed for a five-year fixed term parliament in London. However, it seems clear at the time no one pointed out that having a General Election in May 2015 would clash with the Scottish parliamentary elections. “It was a cock-up,” a Whitehall source said.
When the problem was noticed, it was revealed that Holyrood’s presiding officer had the little-known power to vary the date of the Scottish parliamentary elections by three months either side of the nominal date. Last year, the Coalition suggested increasing this to six months but The Herald reported how pressure was mounting for a variance of up to one year. Consultation with Scottish parties led to a unanimous view, according to Edinburgh sources, that the best option would indeed be a year’s variance – a year’s extension.
The Scottish Parliament will now have to vote on the issue before it rises on March 23 for the forthcoming election. A two-thirds majority will be needed, which means both Labour and the SNP will have to agree. However, it is thought the prospect of an extra year in office will not be something either the SNP’s Alex Salmond or Labour’s Iain Gray will wish to forego.
Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, said once MSPs had agreed on a date, the “general public and political parties will all be clear before this May’s election on how long the next term of the Scottish Parliament is going to last”.