Introduction to 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 chamber is the focal point for the Scottish Parliament's business. The procedures of the Scottish Parliament are overseen by the Presiding Officer. It is the Presiding Officer’s responsibility to ensure that the rules of the parliament are followed and that MSPs conduct themselves appropriately.

The Scottish Parliament works in a similar way to most other parliaments around the world. Within the parliament, MSPs can hold debates and make new laws in areas for which 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.

Committees play a central role in the work of the parliament. Parliamentary business usually takes place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and all debates, and other proceedings are shown live on television.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament

For the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh, MSPs are elected 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 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 the SNP were the largest party and formed a minority government. The next election will be in 2021 to avoid a clash with the UK election in 2020.

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). 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.

However, the UK Parliament still takes decisions for Scotland in some areas. Examples of the powers of the Scottish and UK Parliaments include:

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 and Scotland Act 2016

In recent years there has been an expansion of the Scottish Parliament's power in response to the independence referendum. The Scottish Parliament has been given powers to set tax rates, to borrow up to £5 billion and greater power over welfare and benefits.