The Scottish Parliament

Inside the Scottish Parliament building
Inside the Scottish Parliament building

The Scotland Act 1998 created the Scottish Parliament. As with the UK Parliament, all bills (new laws in the making) passed by the Scottish Parliament have to receive the Royal Assent before they can become law.

The Scottish Parliament works in a similar way to most other parliaments around the world. MSPs can hold debates and make new laws in the areas where the Scottish Parliament has responsibility. MSPs also work in committees where the work of the Scottish Government is scrutinised (checked-up on). Importantly, the parliament and the MSPs within it, have responsibility for spending the parliament’s budget.

The Scottish Parliament does not have a second chamber like the House of Lords. Instead, it has a powerful committee system which can propose as well as scrutinise bills. In committees, small numbers of MSPs discuss legislation in detail and work closely together. The Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee considers any issues raised by members of the public brought to the Scottish Parliament in the form of a petition, providing they meet certain criteria.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament

MSPs are elected to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh, every four or five years (this varies to avoid any clash with Westminster elections). The electoral system used to choose MSPs is known as the Additional Members System (AMS). For the purposes of this election, Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies. Each constituency elects one MSP but there are also an additional 56 regional or list MSPs making 129 MSPs in total.

The last election to the Scottish Parliament was in 2016. The outcome of this election was that the SNP were the largest party and formed a minority government. The next UK General Election is scheduled to be held on 5th May 2022.

Relationship between regional and local constituencies in Scotland.

Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament powers

The powers of the Scottish Parliament have been devolved from the UK Parliament. These were listed in the Scotland Act (1998). However, the UK Parliament still takes decisions for Scotland in some areas. Examples of the powers of the Scottish and UK Parliaments include:

The Scottish Government is given an annual budget of around £30 billion and has the power to make laws on a range of 'devolved' issues.

Powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament

  • Health - the NHS in Scotland (hospitals, GP services etc)
  • Education – Nurseries, schools, colleges and universities
  • Local Government – responsibility for 32 local councils to deliver services such as cleansing, roads and social care
  • Law and Home Affairs – criminal law, civil law, the police, court and prison services, the fire service
  • Environment – environmental protection, flood prevention etc
  • Sports and the Arts – promotion of sports, museums, historic buildings etc
  • Social security – some powers over top-up benefits
  • Taxation – control over part of Scotland’s income tax and VAT

Powers reserved to the UK Parliament

  • Constitutional Affairs – decisions on devolution for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland
  • Defence – the army, navy and air force
  • Foreign Affairs – relations with other countries eg the EU or the USA
  • Central Economic Policy – some taxes including business taxes
  • Social Security – control of reserved benefits: universal credit, tax credit and child benefit
  • Other – immigration, and drug control
How the scottish government works within the uk government

Scotland Act 2012

As a result of the Scotland Act 2012, the Scottish Parliament can introduce a Scottish rate of income tax and has borrowing powers of up to £5 billion.

Scotland Bill 2015

Following the independence referendum the Westminster parties agreed to give the Scottish Parliament yet more powers over and above those already devolved from the Scotland Act 2012. The new powers include control over a portion of income tax, VAT receipts, welfare and benefits.