The 2016 Scottish Parliament general election is due to be held on Thursday 5 May 2016 to elect 129 members to the Scottish Parliament. It would be the fifth general election since the devolved parliament was established in 1999.
It is envisaged that the general election will still take place as scheduled if Scotland votes in favour of independence in 2014.
Under the Scotland Act 1998, an ordinary general election to the Scottish Parliament would normally be held on the first Thursday in May four years after the 2011 election, i.e. in May 2015. However, in May 2010, the new UK Government stated in the coalition agreement that the next United Kingdom general election would also be held in May 2015. This proposal was criticised by the Scottish National Party and Labour, as it had been recommended after the 2007 election that elections with different voting systems should be held on separate days; a recommendation which all of the political parties had then accepted. In response to this criticism, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg offered the right to vary the date of the Scottish Parliament election by a year either way. All the main political parties then stated their support for delaying the election by a year. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a statute of the Westminster Parliament, has moved the date of the Scottish Parliament general election to 5 May 2016.
If Parliament itself resolves that it should be dissolved, with at least two-thirds of the Members (i.e. 86 Members) voting in favour, the Presiding Officer proposes a date for an extraordinary general election and the Parliament is dissolved by the monarch by royal proclamation.
It does not necessarily require a two-thirds majority to precipitate an extraordinary general election, because under the Scotland Act Parliament is also dissolved if it fails to nominate one of its members to be First Minister within certain time limits, irrespective of whether at the beginning or in the middle of a parliamentary term. Therefore, if the First Minister resigned, Parliament would then have 28 days to elect a successor (s46(2)b and s46(3)a). If no new First Minister is elected then the Presiding Officer would ask for Parliament to be dissolved under s3(1)a. This process could also be triggered if the First Minister lost a vote of confidence by a simple majority (i.e. more than 50%), as s/he must then resign (Scotland Act 1998 s45(2)). To date the Parliament has never held a confidence vote on a First Minister.
No extraordinary general elections have been held to date. Any extraordinary general elections would be in addition to ordinary general elections, unless held less than six months before the due date of an ordinary general election, in which case they supplant it. The subsequent ordinary general election reverts to the first Thursday in May, a multiple of four years after 1999.
The Scottish Parliament constituencies have not been coterminous with Scottish Westminster constituencies since the 2005 general election, when the 72 former Westminster constituencies were replaced with a new set of 59, generally larger, constituencies (see Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004). The boundaries used for the Scottish Parliament elections were then revised for the 2011 election. The Boundary Commission also recommended changes to the electoral regions used to elect "list" members of the Scottish Parliament, which were also implemented in 2011.