There may be a number of elections occurring on the same day in your area, so you will need to decide which one(s) you will host a hustings for. If you are unsure which elections are happening in your area, you can have a look here – Upcoming elections | Electoral Commission

The deadline for nominating candidates is Thursday 8 April. After this point, the returning officer for the respective elections will publish a list of candidates for each election.

You will then be able to contact them through the political parties locally or nationally, social media or candidates’ website.

If you want to get in touch before this time, you can use www.democraticdashboard.com to find out who is standing in your area.

You should also ask for mobile numbers and the name and details of the candidate’s election agent so you can keep in touch in the run up to the event.

At elections to the Scottish Parliament, voters are represented by a constituency Member, elected by first-past-the-post, as well as several regional Members, who are elected on a proportional representation system.

Some smaller parties might not put up constituency candidates, but instead only stand for the regional seats.

You should decide if you want to invite only the local constituency candidates, or instead have representatives of all the parties standing in the constituency and region – try to think what is likely to be most useful for the community and is in the best interests of fair public debate.

Do we have to invite all the candidates?

No – but if you don’t, you must have an objective, impartial reason for not including all of them.

The simplest approach is to invite all the relevant candidates in the area or all political parties campaigning in the election and allow all those attending an equal opportunity to participate.

However, this may not always be practical. For example, there may be so many candidates or parties standing that a meeting would be hard to manage – this is especially true for the Scottish Parliament regions where a number of seats may be up for election. If you decide not to invite all candidates, there are some good practice recommendations you should follow to ensure your hustings is genuinely not promoting particular candidates or parties more than others.

These include:

  • Being able to give impartial reasons why you have not invited particular candidates or parties. You should be prepared to explain your reasons to candidates or parties you haven’t invited. If you don’t want to invite a candidate because you don’t agree with their policies, this is not an impartial reason. Neither is inviting or not inviting a candidate because of their actual or perceived religious affiliation. Whilst this may sometimes be legitimate under charity law, it has consequences for  candidates under electoral law, as spending on such hustings may count as election expenditure. In this situation, the amount spent needs to be divided by the number of candidates and if it is over £50 then candidates need to be notified to include it in their returns to the Electoral Commission. You should consult the Electoral Commission’s guidelines on organising a Selective Hustings (see https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/are-you-holding-a-hustings/selective-hustings ) as this will be subject to regulation. You may be required to register with the Commission and ensure that the candidates that you do invite declare your support for them. For these reasons, it is recommended that you invite all candidates, unless there is an impartial reason for you doing so. 
    Impartial reasons may include:
  • Local prominence of some parties or candidates over others.
  • The number of elected representatives of that party at the local or national level.
  • Recent election results in the area.
  • Resources and other practicalities constraining the number of invitees
  • Security concerns.
  • Making sure that candidates or parties you invite represent a reasonable variety of views, from different parts of the political spectrum – for local elections or the regional lists in the Welsh Senedd or Scottish Parliament, each party should be invited to choose a single candidate, even though multiple candidates from that party are standing in the election.
  • Allowing each candidate or party representative attending a fair chance to answer questions and, where appropriate, a reasonable opportunity to respond to points made against them by other candidates or party representative.
  • Informing the audience at the meeting of candidates or parties standing who have not been invited. It is good practice to invite such candidates to submit a short written statement (of the same length as the opening statements of parties who are present) to be read out by the chair at the start of the meeting.  

What if a candidate doesn’t respond, declines, boycotts or fails to turn up?

For organisers, this can be very irritating, but if you anticipate how you will handle the situation before it arises you will be better prepared. In the first instance, try to find a date which all your invited candidates can make – and try to be flexible if things go awry!

  • Non-response – If you do not get a response,  you need to follow up on your invitations. Keep chasing and try to get an email address and telephone number for the candidate and their election agent so you can keep in touch.
  • Declines – if a candidate has declined to attend (due to another commitment, for example) you don’t have to worry about whether your event is impartial, since it is the invitation which counts. If it is a candidate of one of the main national parties, think about whether you would be happy to have a different party spokesperson take part. In the case of a constituency hustings for the Welsh Senedd or Scottish Parliament, it would be reasonable to allow the party concerned to nominate one of its regional list candidates as a substitute. You may wish to make a statement at the start of the event, explaining why the candidate is not able to make it. It is good practice to invite such candidates to submit a short written statement (of the same length as the opening statements of parties who are present) to be read out by the chair at the start of the meeting. 
  • Boycotts – some parties have a policy of not sharing a platform with other parties, as it is felt this conveys a degree of legitimacy on them. If you find that because party X is standing, candidates from Y and Z will not turn up, what should your planning group do? Be prepared to consider holding a different event or not holding an event if it will not be of benefit to the community.
  • No-shows – clearly this would be disappointing for the planning group and the audience, but also for a candidate who has forgotten! Elections can be very busy times, so minimise the unexpected by keeping in touch with candidates, share phone numbers and confirm all the arrangements a couple of days before the event.