THEY say 24 hours is a long time in politics.

With that in mind, voters can expect plenty of twists and turns – and, perhaps, more than a smattering of barbed comments – over the next five weeks as candidates in the Scottish Parliament election go toe-to-toe for some ballot boxing.

The starting pistol in the race for East Renfrewshire seats at Holyrood was fired last week, with tens of thousands of local residents set to cast their vote on Thursday, May 6.

East Renfrewshire will elect one MSP from each of its two constituencies – Renfrewshire South and Eastwood – to serve a five-year term until 2026.

Renfrewshire South straddles both East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire, covering Barrhead, Johnstone, Lochwinnoch, Howwood and Kilbarchan, as well as parts of Neilston, Linwood and Elderslie.

Labour’s Henry Hugh stood down as MSP for that seat prior to the last Scottish Parliament election in 2016.

East Renfrewshire councillor Paul O’Kane has been selected by the party to contest the constituency for a second time after losing to the SNP’s Tom Arthur five years ago.

Conservative candidate Derek Stillie hopes to turn the constituency blue for the first time since it was created in 2011, while Christine Cosh will stand for the Liberal Democrats.

Renfrewshire councillor Andy Doig will also be standing for pro-indy party Scotia Future, which is pushing for Scotland to be separate from both the UK and the EU.

Elsewhere, the Eastwood constituency includes parts of Neilston, as well as Uplawmoor, Newton Mearns and Clarkston.

Jackson Carlaw, who was leader of the Scottish Conservatives until he resigned in July last year, aims to retain that seat.

However, SNP councillor Colm Merrick hopes to overturn a majority of 1,610 secured by Mr Carlaw as he defeated Labour rival Ken Macintosh in 2016.

Mr Carlaw and Mr Merrick will battle it out with Katie Pragnell, of Labour, Tahir Jameel, of the Lib Dems, and Independent candidate David Macdonald.

East Renfrewshire is also in the West Scotland electoral region, with voters asked to cast a separate vote to elect list MSPs, of which there are seven from this region.

It means people have two votes to cast on May 6 – one to choose who represents their constituency and the other to select which party represents their wider region.

So, why should you bother voting? Well, every vote will influence decisions made in key devolved areas such as health, housing and education, which are likely to directly affect you, as well as your friends and family.

The turnout for the last election was only 60 per cent in Renfrewshire South and 68 per cent in Eastwood, which means the views of a significant number of East Renfrewshire residents on these important issues have not been represented in the Scottish Parliament.

If you’ve never voted before, have moved house or changed your name recently, you need to register by Monday, April 19, to be eligible to vote.

This includes 16 and 17-year-olds, who are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, and foreign nationals living in East Renfrewshire who will be voting for the first time.

There are three ways to have your say: in person at a polling station, by postal vote or by nominating someone to vote for you.

Those wishing to vote by post need to register for this method by 5pm on Tuesday, April 6, while anyone wishing to vote by proxy must register by Tuesday, April 27.

For those voting in person, there will be a number of safety measures in place.

They must wear a face covering at all times, unless they are exempt, and should use the hand sanitiser provided when entering and leaving the polling station.

A number of polling stations across the area have also changed locations, in order to maintain social distancing.

May 6 is an in-service day for East Renfrewshire schools, so pupils will not be affected by polling stations being stationed there.

Votes will be counted at the Braehead Arena, in Renfrew, for the Renfrewshire South seat and the West Scotland region, while counting for the Eastwood constituency will be carried out in the sports hall at Eastwood High School.

However, the results will not be revealed overnight. Instead, the count will take place over the following two days, with final results expected to emerge at some point on Saturday, May 8.

Lorraine McMillan, returning officer for East Renfrewshire, told the Barrhead News: “The Scottish Parliament makes decisions that affect every aspect of our daily lives, so it is important to make your voice heard in this election and have a say on who represents you.

“Arrangements are being put in place to help you stay safe at the polling station. You can expect many of the measures you’ve become used to in shops and banks over recent months, such as hand sanitiser, floor markings and face masks, but if you would prefer not to vote in person, you also have the option to apply to vote by post or by proxy.”

You can find more information about the election by visiting here.

Make sure you get the Barrhead News each week between now and May 6 for detailed coverage of the battle to win East Renfrewshire.