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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Scottish Parliament elections
Scotland goes to the polls on Thursday, 1 May, to elect a new Scottish Parliament.

Voters will be asked to return 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to take their seats in the devolved body's temporary home on The Mound in Edinburgh.

They will do so against a backdrop of the war in Iraq which, according to BBC Scotland's political staff, is bound to play a part in the way people decide to cast their ballots.

An important factor is turnout. On 1 May, 1999, when voters were asked to create the inaugural parliament, 58% of those eligible to take part chose to do so.

This time, there is grave concern among political parties that the figure will drop, possibly because the initial euphoria of the "new" parliament has dissipated.

MSPs are voted in in two different ways - 73 by constituency and 56 by regional vote.

Seats to watch
Dundee West: Labour maj. 121
Aberdeen North: Labour maj. 396
Inv. East, Nairn, Lochaber: SNP maj. 441
Ochil: Labour maj. 1,303
Ayr: Tory maj. 3,344 (By-election March 2000)

The latter system is designed to ensure that the number of seats won by each party reflects the proportion of votes it received more accurately than "first-past-the-post" allows.

Whilst the first parliament has had its critics, it also has its fair share of supporters.

One view has it that the parliament has simply proved to be a pale shadow of its "grown-up" Westminster counterpart with poor debates and "kitchen-sink" politics.

The more positive outlook is that devolution has worked by ensuring that legislative powers are shaped much closer to those people they affect - fox-hunting and Section 28 for example.

Whatever the opinion, the saga of the new parliament building has provided a rich source of negative headlines over the past four years.

The Holyrood chamber under construction
The Holyrood chamber under construction

BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor sums up the point: "For those disenchanted with politics and especially with devolved politics, it has become a totem of discontent, an expensively clad, concrete hate figure."

Whilst the outcome of the election may well be in part decided in the sands of Iraq, it should be pointed out that the Scottish Parliament has no influence in the area of national defence, which is "reserved" to Westminster.

The war will end, but the parliament has four years to run, during which time it will make new laws on health, criminal justice, education and much more.

Lengthy talks predicted

Polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm on 1 May.

If no party wins an outright majority, negotiations will begin on forming another coalition government.

However, senior political sources have told BBC Scotland that there will not be as quick a resolution to their talks as occurred in 1999, when they took five days.

The indications are that the wheeling and dealing could take up to a month.

Thursday, 8 May, is a key date. Legislation states that the parliament must meet within a week of the election.

Parliament funding
2002-03: 18.2bn
2003-04: 19.7bn
2004-05: 20.9bn
2005-06: 22.3bn

The next milestone is 28 May, the deadline for the election of a first minister. If this does not happen, the presiding officer must call a new election.

Whatever the result of the poll, some MSPs have decided not to seek re-election.

Dennis Canavan is seeking re-election as an independent MSP in Falkirk West and he will be joined in that bracket by Margo MacDonald, who very publicly fell out with the SNP because of her placing on the Lothians list and has decided to go it alone.

Other independents are standing in Dunfermline East and West and in Glasgow, on the single issue of the NHS.

The Scottish People's Alliance is campaigning on an ultimate policy of halting devolution, while the Fishing Party is fielding candidates on the regional list in the north east of Scotland.

Although the parliamentary elections take centre stage on 1 May, another set of elections is taking place.

All 1,222 seats on Scotland's 32 councils are up for grabs.

Local authorities are the bodies at the sharp end of delivering services such as refuse collection, leisure facilities and road repairs.

Vote Scotland 2003

To find out about polls where you live, enter your full postcode



An at-a-glance guide to the parties key policies

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