The United Kingdom (UK) is a democracy. A democracy is a country where the people choose their government.
In the UK there are too many people to ask and too many decisions to take therefore representatives are elected to make these decisions. Representatives include Members of Parliament (MPs), Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and local councillors.
As Scotland is part of the United Kingdom some of the decisions which decide what happens in Scotland are made at the UK Parliament at Westminster, London. However, since 1999, some decisions for Scotland have been taken at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh.
Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707, but has always retained its own identity. For example, Scotland shares a common language and currency with the rest of the UK but has its own legal and education systems.
In the same way, Scottish people may be a part of the British Olympic team, there are also separate Scottish football and rugby teams.
As a result of this distinct identity, many people have long seen themselves as both Scottish and British. However, in the last thirty to forty years, a growing number of Scots have started to see themselves as more Scottish than British and, as a result, there have been increasing calls for more decisions about Scotland to be made in Scotland rather than at the UK Parliament in London.
This demand for increased decision making powers away from the UK Parliament in London is known as devolution.
In 1997 a Labour UK Government was elected to power with a commitment to devolution for Scotland. However, before a Scottish Parliament could be set up a referendum (single issue vote) was held.
In 1998, a clear majority of Scots (74%) voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament. Two years later, on 1 July 1999, the Scottish Parliament was opened at Holyrood in Edinburgh.
The UK Parliament meets in Westminster, London. It has two parts – the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The House of Commons is made up of MPs and the Lords in the House of Lords are sometimes known as peers.
At UK level, there are three parts to the decision making process:
Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected every five years at a General Election. The country is divided into 650 constituencies or areas. Each constituency elects one MP to Parliament. MPs represent their constituents and debate political issues and proposals for new laws.The last General Election was in 2015.
At the 2015 General Election, Scotland returned 59 MPs. 56 of those 59 elected were from the Scottish National Party (SNP).
One role of MPs is to represent their constituents in areas where the UK Parliament takes decisions eg immigration or defence. MPs either debate or ask questions in the House of Commons or work in smaller groups known as committees.
Other important roles of MPs in Parliament are to help make laws and scrutinise (check-up on) the work of the government or investigate issues.
The most senior MPs in the governing party (or parties, if there is a coalition) form the Cabinet, of which the Prime Minister is the leader. The Cabinet is responsible for running the Government.
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. The role of the House of Lords is to help make laws, check on the work of government and investigate issues.
Most peers are appointed by the Queen on the advice of a prime minister in recognition of their expertise in a particular area eg business, law or science. Others are Church of England bishops and 92 are hereditary peers or people with titles (such as Barons or Viscounts) who have inherited the right to sit in the Lords.
The UK's political system can be described as a constitutional monarchy with a king or queen as Head of State.
However, it is the Houses of Parliament that make our laws, not the monarch. The monarch only formally passes legislation - this is known as Royal Assent.
The monarch must remain politically neutral and does not interfere with the legislative process. No monarch has refused Parliament's wishes for over 300 years. Constitutionally, the UK Government is his/her Majesty's Government.