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‘X’ Marks the Spot

‘X’ marks the spot, Jo Simms


We are off to the polling stations twice this summer – once to elect a new Scottish Parliament and once to decide whether we are in or out of Europe


Did you know you are represented by eight Members of the Scottish Parliament? That’s a sobering thought, especially as the basic pay for an MSP rises this month (April) to just over £60,000.

One represents your Scottish Parliament constituency and the other seven are your regional representatives. There are 73 constituencies, each represented by one MSP.  There are also eight regions, each electing seven regional MSPs.

That’s why you get two ballot papers and X marks the spot on each one.


There are three ways in which you can cast your vote for them: in person at a polling station; by post or by proxy.


But first you need to register. This can be done on line by visiting  – you will find all you need to know in the voting section by clicking on Citizenship and Living in the UK. You can register on line with your National Insurance number, or print out paper copies of the forms to send by post to your local Electoral Registration Office, which is usually at your local council.


If you chose to vote in person a poll card will arrive through the post. The polling station staff are there to help; the presiding officer of the station can mark your ballot if you need help or you can ask to see a large print ballot paper.


Postal votes were traditionally used by people holidaying or working away but more people are choosing this because work or family commitments mean they can’t be sure of getting to the polling station on the day. You need to give a signature to help prevent electoral fraud.


Someone you trust can cast your vote for you, by proxy, when you cannot get to the polling station because of illness or travel. It is especially useful for members of the armed forces or people living overseas who cannot be sure postal ballot papers would arrive back in time. The person you appoint has to be registered individually. You can apply for an emergency proxy up until 5pm on polling day if you fall ill.


Once the votes are cast they have to be counted.


The constituency candidate with the most votes is elected; good old-fashioned first past the post stuff.


The formula for deciding who wins each of a region’s seven seats is like a nightmare mental arithmetic test at primary school. This is how the Electoral Commission explains it: ‘The formula is the total number of regional votes received divided by the number of seats (constituency and regional) already gained in that region +1.


‘The party with the highest result after the formula is applied gains an additional seat. The calculation is repeated until all the additional seats have been awarded. For a party with no seats the number of votes received is divided by one, and so stays the same. If the party already has one seat in that region then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats in that region it is divided by three, and so on.’

Easy isn’t it?






18 April: the last day you can register to vote


19 April: 5pm is the deadline to deliver new postal and proxy vote applications or changing existing ones


5 May: polling day


9 May: the new members start work, beginning with registration


11 May: Kirking of the Parliament, a multi-faith service


12 May: first meeting of Parliament when members take the oath or make an affirmation; the new presiding officer and deputy are elected


23 June: EU referendum polling day and the question is: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union’.