THE outcome of the Holyrood election will be unknown for up to two days after the May 6 poll, election chiefs have confirmed.

Because of extra precautions for the Covid pandemic, only a third of the results are scheduled to be declared the following day.

Most will only be declared on Saturday May 8, a record wait.

The timetable emerged in a provisional list of counts and declarations drawn up by local returning officers and published by the Electoral Management Board for Scotland.

With recent opinion polls putting the SNP within touching distance of a majority, with profound implications for a second independence referendum, it means an unprecedented, nail-biting wait for the final result.

READ MORE: Revealed: Scottish Parliament election result schedule for your area

The presence of Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party on the regional lists also makes the result harder to predict than in previous years.

Many of the seats due to be counted on the Saturday are marginals which could prove crucial to the final balance of parties in the parliament.

They include Tory-held Dumfriesshire, Aberdeenshire West, and Galloway & West Dumfries, where the SNP are challenging, and SNP-held Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, which is the top target seat for the Liberal Democrats.

Until now, the longest wait for Holyrood result has been late on the day after polling, in 2007.

However that was a result of problems with new electronic counting machines, when records numbers of apparently spoiled ballots led to counts being suspended and restarted.

Under Holyrood’s mixed electoral system, there are 73 first-past-the-post constituency contests, the results of which then help to determine the 56 list MSPs spread across eight electoral regions.

Because of spacing, hygiene and staff number restrictions resulting from the pandemic, a decision has already been made to abandon the traditional overnight count.

Instead, after voting on Thursday May 6, counts and declarations will be staggered across Friday May 7 and Saturday May 8.

According to a spreadsheet of anticipated counts and declaration dates compiled by the Electoral Management Board, 44 constituencies will be declared on Friday and 29 declared on Saturday.

List votes are expected to be counted in parallel with the constituency ballots.

Only after all the constituency results have been declared and all the list votes tallied within an electoral region can the list seats for that region be calculated.

The more constituencies a party wins in a region, the harder it is for it to pick up list MSPs uner the proportional system.

The list count proved pivotal to the outcome of the 2007 election which brought the SNP to power, with a last-minute recount in the Highlands & Islands putting the party one just seat ahead of Labour.

The list counts have also been critical in determining if the SNP had a majority in 2011, when 16 of its 69 MSPs came from the list.

In 2016, the list count also showed the SNP had fallen short of a majority, with just four of its 63 MSPs coming from the list.

Given the reduced capacity of counting venues due to Covid-related physical distancing, Returning Officers do not have the usual space to count as many constituencies at once.

The counting of constituencies within each of the eight regions are therefore due to be split across two days to varying degrees.

In the West of Scotland, only one constituency, Renfrewshire South, is due to be counted on Saturday, with all eight other seats in the region to be counted on Friday.

However in many other regions, four seats out of eight or nine are to be counted on Saturday.
Regional results are only declared when the constituency results are all declared in a particular region, and when the totals for the regional vote in each of those constituencies are provided to the Regional Returning Officer.

It means the broad contours of the result could emerge on Friday, but the final, volatile result will not be clear until Saturday afternoon.