Navigate’s guide to the May 2021 elections

May 6, 2021 Charles Cummins

Scotland, Wales, and large swathes of England go to the polls today, as elections for Mayors, local authorities, and the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments take place. The polls are now open and will close at 10pm, with the British political landscape potentially looking very different by the time all votes are counted. Please find below a short overview of how today’s elections will work:


Scotland

129 members will be elected to the Scottish Parliament today. It will be the sixth general election since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.

2016 Scottish Parliament election result

SNP 63 seats
Scottish Conservatives 31 seats
Scottish Labour 24 seats
Scottish Greens 6 seats
Scottish Lib Dems 5 seats

Manifestos:

  • SNP – hold a ‘post-pandemic’ independence referendum within the next Parliamentary term; create a National Care Service and increase investment in social care by 25%; build 100,000 affordable homes by 2032; bring ScotRail into public ownership; invest £33bn in infrastructure and create a National Infrastructure Company; free devices and internet for every school pupil; and freeze income tax rates and bands.
  • Conservativeconnect every home and business to full fibre broadband by 2027; introduce a ‘Right to Retrain’ for every adult; build 60,000 new affordable homes; increase annual funding of the NHS by £2bn; introduce a dedicated STEM teacher in every primary school; eradicate rough sleeping by 2026; and use a ‘Scotland First’ approach to procurement.
  • Labour – ensure everyone has the offer of a job; create a National Care Service; provide personal tutoring programmes for all pupils and move Scotland to top of international educational league tables; establish a National Housing Agency to coordinate rollout of energy efficiency measures; adopt a ‘Local First’ approach to procurement; abolish Council Tax and replace it with a ‘fairer alternative’; and deliver a High Street Bailout plan.
  • Greenreform income tax to ensure the ‘rich pay more’; invest £2.2bn in public transport and £3bn in warm and zero-carbon homes; recruit 5,500 additional teachers and raise school starting age to seven; introduce laws to support assisted dying; support the introduction of safe drug consumption facilities; and secure powers to introduce a Universal Basic Income scheme pilot.
  • Liberal Democratsintroduce a job guarantee for 16–24-year-olds; provide new local powers to integrate all forms of transport; move 1 million homes to zero emission heating by 2030; build 60,000 affordable homes; develop a system of Universal Basic Income; and end gender identity conversion therapy.
  • Alba Party‘immediately’ begin negotiations with UK Government for the delivery of an independence referendum’; begin plans for a new currency for Scotland; set up a Scottish National Housing Company, and a Scottish Research and Development Fund; carry out a review of Scotland’s education system; and create a ‘Citizens’ Chamber for Holyrood’.
  • Reform UK‘champion personal choice, community response and local networks’; guarantee taxes will be no higher than the rest of the UK; focus on traditional approaches to teaching; end all COVID-19 related lockdowns.

Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP since 2014, and has been an MSP since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. She is seeking to regain the SNP’s majority in Holyrood, which it lost in the 2016 Election. Her predecessor as First Minister and leader of the SNP Alex Salmond has launched a new Party, called Alba, with his aim being to ensure that pro-independence parties achieve a ‘supermajority’, though his new Party is polling at very low percentages. The SNP’s biggest challengers come from new leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and current Westminster MP, Douglas Ross, and new leader of Scottish Labour Anas Sarwar. Ross is seeking to ensure that the Conservatives remain the second largest party in Scotland, and has made efforts to distance himself from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is more unpopular in Scotland than in England or Wales. Sarwar, who is widely thought of having performed well in the pre-election leaders’ debates, is said to be ‘realistic’ about Labour’s prospects, and is instead focusing on rebuilding Labour in the longer-term. Former MP Willie Rennie is leading the Liberal Democrats into a Scottish election for the second time, and will be hoping to increase the number of Lib Dem MSPs above 5 for the first time since 2011, while co-leaders of the Green Party Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater will also be looking to pick up MSPs wherever possible, with Slater herself seeking to become an MSP for the first time. Michelle Ballantyne is leading Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) in its first Scottish Parliament election, while George Galloway is once again seeking elected office, standing for the All for Unity Party, which is opposed to Scottish independence. Four current MPs, including Douglas Ross, are standing to become MSPs, as well as a number of former MPs. Neil Gray resigned as an MP to contest the election for the SNP, while Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey both quit the SNP to join Alba and fight the election, while remaining as MPs. Former Deputy Leader of the SNP Angus Robertson is standing, as are former MPs Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Alba), Stephen Kerr (Conservative), Paul Sweeney (Labour), and Alan Reid (Liberal Democrat)

A number of high profile MSPs are standing down at this election, including 13 who were first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. This includes outgoing Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs Michael Russell (lost his seat in 2003 before returning in 2007), outgoing Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, and former leader of Scottish Labour Johann Lamont. Communities and Local Government Secretary Aileen Campbell, and Health and Sport Secretary Jeane Freeman are both standing down, as are former leader of Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson and disgraced former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament are done via the Additional Member System, with each voter having the opportunity to vote for both a constituency representative, and for a regional representative. 73 of the MSPs are elected via the constituency vote, with a further 56 from eight regions in Scotland. For the constituency section, a voter chooses for a candidate from a party, whereas for the regional vote, they choose a party. Each Party has drawn up a list of candidates for each region who will be elected in that order, depending on how many votes their party receives.

Ballot counting would usually begin at 10pm when the polls close, however due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, counting will begin instead on Friday morning at 9am, with it expected that 47 constituency MSPs will be confirmed on Friday, and the further 26 on Saturday. All results, including from regional lists, are hoped to be declared by Saturday evening.


Wales

60 members will be elected to the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament today. It will be the sixth election since the Senedd (formerly the National Assembly for Wales) was established in 1999.

2016 Senedd Election Result:

Welsh Labour 29 seats
Plaid Cymru 12 seats
Welsh Conservatives 11 seats
UKIP Cymru 7 seats
Welsh Lib Dems 1 seat

Manifestos

  • Welsh Labour – implement the NHS Recovery Plan, carry out a major schools catch up plan; offer a work, education or training guarantee for all under 25s; deliver the Real Living Wage for all social care staff; abolish more single use plastics; create a National Forest for Wales; fund 600 Police Community Support Officers to keep communities safe; build 20,000 new, low carbon social homes for rent; and create a timber based industrial strategy.
  • Plaid Cymru hold an independence referendum; create a £6bn Green Economic Stimulus which will generate 60,000 jobs over the five-year term; establish a national Youth Job Guarantee for every 16 to 24-year-old; base an alternative economic strategy on a Local First principle, increasing Welsh firms’ share of contracts from 52 to 75% of the public procurement budget; create Prosperity Wales, an arms-length development agency to focus on growing Welsh SMEs; develop Industrial Innovation Clusters in key areas of the economy; and expand the role of the Development Bank of Wales.
  • Welsh Conservatives – create 65,000 new jobs in Covid Recovery; build five new hospitals and provide extra funding to the NHS with 3,000 more nurses and 1,200 doctors by 2026; create an NHS Covenant for a legal guarantee of increased investment into the NHS; abolish business rates for small businesses; build 100,000 new houses in the next decade; and build an M4 relief road.
  • UKIP Cymru – abolish the Senedd Cymru; reduce net UK immigration to less than 10,000 a year; halt foreign aid and spend it on NHS frontline services; reform the House of Lords; introduce proportional voting; and protect British Heritage.
  • Reform UK – reform the Senedd; end lockdowns in Wales; create an internet sales tax and scrap business rates; and stimulate North Wales’ economy by supporting Wylfa Newydd.
  • Liberal Democrats all health workers paid the Real Living Wage; pass a Clean Air Act in the first 100 days to tackle dirty air; create a £500m fund over five years to help high streets, town and city centres; extend provision of Free School Meals during the school holidays; reform school term times; free bus travel for under-25s; and make Holyhead a regional hub for renewable energy and hydrogen production.
  • Propel – create a Welsh constitution and Bill of Rights where each county shall be considered sovereign, and all law-making powers reserved to the Welsh Parliament; conduct an audit into Welsh Government waste, fraud or corruption; end all lockdowns in Wales; implement tough new corporate lobbying controls; establish a Welsh national energy company; and create a Sovereign Wealth Fund.
  • Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party – single issue Party with the aim to dismantle the Senedd Cymru and return devolved powers back to Westminster. Other pledges include: privatising Cardiff Airport; repeal alcohol pricing laws; and abolish Welsh rates of income-tax.

Mark Drakeford became leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister in 2018, following the resignation of Carwyn Jones. Drakeford has been MS for Cardiff West since 2011 and has held a number of positions in Cabinet since 2013, including Cabinet Secretary for Finance. Support for Drakeford has been buoyed by his handling of the pandemic, leading to him being considered as an electoral asset for the Labour Party. Drakeford is squaring off against his main challenger, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, who is leading his party into election season for the first time. Initially, Plaid Cymru had performed strongly in polls, but recent polls temper expectation for more moderate gains for the Party. Price has said he would not form Government with Labour if Labour needed support for a majority in the Senedd, since politics is his ‘vocation’ not his career, and Welsh independence is ‘necessary’. Andrew RT Davies is predicted to maintain the Welsh Conservatives’ position as third largest party in Wales, despite a series of scandals in Wales (which led to him returning as leader), and controversies from the party’s UK leader Boris Johnson. Despite the 2016 Welsh Elections marking a breakthrough for UKIP when the Party won seven seats, interim leader Neil Hamilton is the sole UKIP representative in the Senedd to stand for it again in 2021. By contrast, Reform UK, led by Nathan Gill, has candidates standing in all regions. However, this election may have come too early for Reform UK, a party still trying to establish its name and identity. New leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and short-term MP Jane Dodds will be seeking to win Brecon and Radnorshire, the one seat the Lib Dems held from the 2016 Senedd Election but had turned blue during the 2019 General Election. Former Plaid Cymru MS Neil McEvoy is leading his new party Propel through the election, on a platform of constitutional reform for Welsh independence and direct democracy. Richard Suchorzewski is leading the single-issue party Abolish the Welsh Assembly, seeking to dissolve the Senedd and return devolved powers back to Westminster.

Key figures in the Senedd have announced that they will not seek re-election, some of whom have been members since the Senedd’s formation in 1999. These include former Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Minister for Education Kirsty Williams, and former First Minister Carwyn Jones (Labour). The first ever Llywydd (Presiding Officer) of the Senedd Dafydd Elis-Thomas is also not seeking re-election.

As with Scotland, Wales uses the Additional Member System, where a voter casts two votes – one for a constituency member and a second for a regional member. There are five regions in Wales, each represented by four regional MSs in the Senedd: South Wales East; South Wales Central; South Wales West; Mid and West Wales; and North Wales. The forty remaining seats are occupied by constituency MSs within those regions, bringing total membership of the Senedd to sixty representatives.

Counting the ballots casted for the Senedd election will start at 9am on Friday, with all constituency results expected by the end of the day. Determining the regional results could spill-over into Saturday as they are dependent on which party wins at constituency level.


English Local Elections

There will be voting in 143 local authorities this year, with approximately 4,650 council seats available. As last year’s vote was postponed due to the pandemic, there will be a greater number of positions up for election. Of these, 47 seats are held by the Conservatives, 54 are held by Labour, 6 by the Liberal Democrats and 33 are under no overall control. There will also be 3 newly-formed councils holding elections in Buckinghamshire, North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire.

According to a survey by the University of Essex, the pandemic will dominate this year’s voting agenda. Professor Paul Whiteley, who conducted the survey, highlighted that many people are focusing on the national issue and less on their local authorities suggesting that local issues are likely to be overlooked. Nonetheless, council tax may be a significant issue for voters as local authorities explore options to repair their finances.

Among the list of councils holding elections are many in the North and Midlands containing constituencies where the Conservatives won seats from Labour at the 2019 General Election, such as Dudley, Wolverhampton and Durham. A YouGov poll indicates that the Conservatives are set to benefit from a collapse in UKIP support, and are projected to gain 90 extra councillors. Results for English councils are spread over four days from Thursday night until Sunday.


Mayoral Elections

The position of Mayor of London is currently held by Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party, who was elected in 2016 with 44.2% of the first-round votes and 56.8% of the second-round votes. Khan was re-selected as the Labour candidate in 2018. The Conservative Party selected Shaun Bailey as its candidate, and the Green Party chose Sian Berry as its candidate. Rory Stewart, a former Conservative MP and Minister, ran as an independent before withdrawing due to the delay in the election. Siobhan Benita, who had been the Lib Dem candidate, also withdrew after the election delay. She was replaced as the party’s candidate by Luisa Porritt.

Twenty candidates will appear on the ballot for London mayor, more than in any previous election for the position. The election will use a Supplementary Vote System, in which voters express a first and a second preference for candidates. The electoral system for the Constituency London Assembly Member election is the Additional Member System.

The latest opinion poll suggests Labour’s Sadiq Khan is on course for a second term as London Mayor. Khan has 48% of the first-round vote vs. 29% for Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey. Once second preferences are factored in, Khan’s share rises to 63% vs. 37% for Bailey. Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt and Green candidate Siân Berry remain in close contention with each other for third place with 8% and 7% respectively. Other ‘notable’ candidates include Laurence Fox, Piers Corbyn, Peter Gammons for UKIP, London Assembly Member David Kurten, YouTuber Niko Omilana, and Count Binface.

Manifestos

  • Labourshape London’s recovery from the pandemic by building a ‘greener, fairer, safer and more prosperous city’; protect and create jobs, whilst supporting new and growing businesses; revive central London by helping the hospitality and creative sectors to recover; continue to invest in the police, with a renewed focus on the safety of women and girls; provide greater opportunities for young people; introduce a Green New Deal; ensure public transport is safe, affordable and reliable; and increase the number of ‘genuinely affordable homes’.
  • Conservative – hire 8,000 more police officers and reopen 38 police stations; create 32 new youth centres and 4,000 new youth workers; build 100,000 homes for £100,000 each; a zero-emission bus fleet by 2025; introduce corporate sponsorship to the Tube network; set up a London Infrastructure Bank; reverse 10% council tax hike; and scrap plans for an Outer London tax.
  • Green – set new targets to solve the climate emergency by 2030; flatten fares and create a single zone for tube and rail and make all transport zero carbon and non-polluting by 2030; new investment to acquire homes for key workers at a London Living Rent; set clear targets to prevent violence and bring murders down to zero; champion high streets and small businesses; and create green jobs.
  • Liberal Democrats – reinvent the high street; create a London Apprenticeships Hub; provide further support for small businesses; establish the London Housing Company to take control of delivering the homes required and convert empty offices to homes; ensure all buses are electric or hydrogen by 2028; and accelerate a return to community policing.
  • UKIP – Recruit more police officers; rebuild the capital’s economy and attract new investors; ensure public transport is more efficient and financially viable; focus on new housing in every borough and hold developers accountable for affordable housing; ‘unite divided communities’; and plant millions of new trees to create a greener city.

As well as London, there are elections for twelve mayors which cover: Bristol, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Doncaster, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Liverpool City Region, North Tyneside, Salford, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England and West Yorkshire. The West Yorkshire metro mayor position is being contested in an election for the first time this year. Mayors up for re-election include Andy Burnham (Labour) in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram (Labour) in Liverpool City Region, Andy Street (Conservative) in the West Midlands, Ben Houchen (Conservative) in Tees Valley, Tim Bowles (Conservative) in the West of England and James Palmer (Conservative) in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Labour leader Keir Starmer MP joined Labour candidates in three key mayoral races yesterday: West Yorkshire (Tracy Brabin MP), West Midlands (Liam Byrne MP) and West of England (Dan Norris). The candidates have committed to: bring buses back under public control and simplify fares for West Yorkshire under Tracy Brabin’s leadership; introduce an extra 450 community police officers to boost police numbers and make streets safer for West Midlands under Liam Byrne’s leadership; and create 23,000 new green jobs for the West of England under Dan Norris’s leadership.

The result of the Tees Valley mayor contest could come later on Friday (5pm) but the results of most of the other major mayoral elections, such as London, Manchester and the Liverpool City Region, are not expected until Saturday.


Hartlepool By-Election

The Hartlepool by-election is also set to attract particular attention, after Labour MP Mike Hill resigned with immediate effect in March. Held by the Labour Party since 1964 (formerly The Hartlepools), the Conservatives appear to have a 17-point lead over the seat according to Survation for ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Among the Hartlepool voters polled, 51% viewed Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP favourably and 28% unfavourably, giving him a net favourability rating of +23. In comparison, Starmer had a net rating of -18. Former MP for Stockton South Paul Williams is standing for Labour, while Jill Mortimer is the Conservative candidate. Counting is expected to begin immediately in Hartlepool, with the result likely to be announced between 4am-6am on Friday.