SCOTLAND'S Covid election was well run and almost all voters were happy with the way the May contest was handled, the elections watchdog has found.

However, there are warnings about the capacity of local services in a report released today as debate around the timing of indyref2 continues.

The Electoral Commission found 95% of voters were satisfied with voting processes on May 6, when the Scottish Parliament contest was run in unique circumstances.

There had been months of public discussion over whether or not the race should be run during the pandemic.

In the run-up to polling day, campaigns encouraged people to consider registering for a postal vote to protect public health while encouraging participation.

And councils set up strict rules on entering polling stations and following protective guidelines, with attendees even asked to bring their own pens.

The National:

In the end, Scotland recorded the highest ever turnout for a Holyrood election at 63.5%.

In a review today, the watchdog said the changes put in place had "helped to support and reassure voters and candidates". Almost nine in 10 of those standing (88%) said the contest was well-run.

Andy O’Neill, head of the Electoral Commission in Scotland, said: "This year’s Scottish election took place in unprecedented circumstances. It is testament to the hard work and collaboration of everyone in the electoral community that the poll was delivered successfully and commanded the confidence of voters."

However, the watchdog also highlighted the "challenges" experienced in some areas in securing polling station venues and finding and training staff to work on polling day.

Concerns are also raised about the reliance on a small marketplace of expert suppliers for specialist election services, including ballot printing, and the risks this creates.  

O’Neill said: "We have repeatedly highlighted concerns about the resilience and capacity of electoral administration services in Scotland, which are coupled with the challenges of delivering elections within an outdated and increasingly complex electoral law framework.

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"Further legislative changes are already in the pipeline and it is critical that these services are properly resourced and funded, so that voters can continue to receive the support they need to register and vote.

"For our part, we will continue to work in partnership with the Electoral Management Board in Scotland and governments to address the challenges of capacity and resilience."

This was the first election in the UK to require campaigners to include an imprint on their digital campaign materials to give voters transparency about who was trying to target them online. While "most" candidates and parties complied with the new rules, the report records difficulties in contacting with the campaigners who did not.

The Commission now wants an additional power enabling it to obtain information from social media companies to support compliance with the rules.

At their weekend party conferences, the SNP and Alba continued to take very different positions on the scheduling of a new independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon seeks to hold it by the end of 2023, but only if the pandemic has passed. Civil servants have been tasked with working on a new prospectus for independence ahead of the vote in a resumption of work which was paused in 2020 at the outset of Covid-19.

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On Sunday, SNP members passed a motion backing the holding of the vote "as soon as it is safe", in accordance with the party's election manifesto. The motion stated that "people in Scotland should not have their health, wellbeing and future economic potential compromised by holding a referendum on independence before it is safe to do so" and the timing "should be determined by data driven criteria about the clear end to the public health crisis, which would allow a full, normal, and energetic referendum campaign".

But delivering his conference address in Greenock, Alba leader Alex Salmond compared the SNP's approach to the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, saying: "The pandemic did not stop the actual Scottish elections this year nor should it have. Why then did it delay independence preparations?"

He went on: "Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday Covid had made the financial case for independence more challenging.

"She is wrong - these great events, world events, make the economic and social necessity of Scottish independence overwhelming."