VOTERS were going to the polls today to elect the MSPs who will make Scotland’s laws for the next five years.
Polls show the SNP is on course for another victory, with Labour and the Conservatives battling it out for second place and the Greens tipped to make gains.
As the six-week campaign drew to an end, the party leaders made their final pitch to voters.
Campaigning in the Capital, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale – who wants to use new powers coming to Holyrood to increase the top rate of income tax and use the money to stop spending cuts – said: “Voters across Scotland have a clear choice. We can have five more years of cuts with another SNP government, or investment in our public services with Labour.
“A vote for Labour is a vote to send MSPs to Holyrood who will stand against austerity and cuts in communities across Scotland.”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson urged people to vote Conservative to hold the SNP to account for their “lack of leadership” in government.
Speaking at the Royal Botanic Garden, she said: “Who do you want holding that Scottish Government to account? I say this: Labour, you’ve had your chance. Twice. Move over and let someone else have a go. Let me get stuck into them.
“I say to everyone in Scotland – Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Yes, No, or anywhere in the middle: if you want someone to do a job, I will work for you.”
Ms Dugdale and Ms Davidson are both standing in Edinburgh seats and are also top of their parties’ lists in Lothian.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon’s eve-of-poll rally in Glasgow was briefly disrupted by a man waving a union jack flag in front of the SNP leader.
As he was led away, she thanked him for “turning up here to show what a democratic country we are”.
This is the first election in which Ms Sturgeon – who took over from Alex Salmond in 2014 – has directly appealed to Scots to elect her as First Minister.
She said: “I know there will be people in every part of Scotland, even those who vote SNP, who do not agree with every thing I say or do, or who do not agree with everything the SNP says or does.
“But I hope to encourage this country to come together to elect a government that has Scotland’s interests at heart at all times, a government that will put the interests of this country first, last and always.
“In asking you to elect me as the First Minister, I pledge to you today my determination each and every day to lead this country with confidence, with optimism, with imagination, with ambition.”
The election campaign has been described as lacklustre due, at least in part, to the clear lead enjoyed by the SNP from the start.
Turnout is expected to be significantly less than the 73 per cent seen in the Capital at the Westminster general election last year and the record 84 per cent for the independence referendum in 2014.
Turnout in Edinburgh and the Lothians is traditionally above average in Scottish Parliament elections.
The first devolution election in 1999 saw 61 per cent of Lothian voters take part, compared with the overall Scottish figure of 58 per cent.
And last time, in 2011, 54.8 per cent of voters in Lothian went to the polls while the all-Scotland turnout was 50.4 per cent.
With the polls suggesting the SNP may win all 73 first-past-the post contests, two Edinburgh constituencies have been highlighted among a handful of key seats where the SNP could face an upset.
In Edinburgh Southern, Labour’s Daniel Johnson is bidding to oust the SNP’s Jim Eadie, who won last time with just 29.4 per cent of the vote. At last year’s Westminster general election, Edinburgh South – which has roughly similar boundaries – was the only seat Labour managed to hold against the SNP tide.
And in Edinburgh Western, Lib Dem candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton is seeking to win back a seat the party lost to the SNP last time. He claims the controversy surrounding the area’s MP Michelle Thomson over her property deals has damaged the Nationalists, who also deselected MSP Colin Keir in favour of new candidate Toni Giugliano.
Counting for the Edinburgh seats will take place at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston. The results of all six of the city constituencies are expected around 3.30am. Separate counts also take place in West Lothian, Midlothian and East Lothian. The regional list result for Lothian is not expected until around 5.30am.