Introduction to the Scottish Parliament

Inside the Scottish Parliament building
Inside the Scottish Parliament building

The Scottish Parliament was created by a law known as ‘The Scotland Act (1998)’. Each decision made by the Parliament is signed by the Queen before it becomes law. This is called Royal Assent.

Most of the work in the Scottish Parliament happens in the chamber. This is where MSPs sit. Their meetings are chaired by the Presiding Officer, who makes sure that the rules of the parliament are followed.

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.

When in the chamber, MSPs can take part in debates and question members of the government when making new laws or adapting old ones.

MSPs also work in smaller groups called committees. This is where they scrutinise (or check) the work of the Scottish Government. These committees play a big role in the parliament.

Work in the chamber and in committees usually takes place on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and is recorded for members of the public to watch.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament

MSPs are usually elected every four years. This sometimes changes to five years if it clashes with UK Parliament elections. The system used to elect MSPs is known as the Additional Member System (AMS).

Scotland has 129 MSPs. There are 73 constituency MSPs and 56 regional list MSPs.

The last election to the Scottish Parliament was in 2021. The SNP was the biggest party and has formed a minority government. This means that they have less than half of the total MSPs.

Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament powers

The powers of the Scottish Parliament have been devolved (handed down) from the UK Parliament. They were named in the same law that created the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government has a budget of around £34 billion .

The UK Parliament still makes some decisions for Scotland. These are known as reserved powers. Examples of powers of the Scottish and UK Parliaments include:

Powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament

  • Health – the NHS in Scotland (GPs, hospitals etc)
  • Education – schools, colleges, universities
  • Local Government – there are 32 local councils that the Parliament funds
  • Law and order – the police and prison services, courts
  • Environment – flood prevention etc
  • Sports and the Arts – promotion of sports, museums, orchestras etc
  • Welfare – some powers to provide benefits
  • Taxation – some power to control tax and VAT

Powers reserved to the UK Parliament

  • Constitutional affairs – decisions on devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Defence – the army, navy and air force
  • Foreign Affairs – relationships with other countries
  • Economic policy – power to control taxes
  • Welfare – control of benefits such as Universal Credit
  • Immigration – control over the rules for foreign people to live and work in the UK

How the scottish government works within the uk government

Scotland Act 2012 and Scotland Act 2016

The Scottish Parliament was given more powers through these two laws. This happened as a result of the referendum on independence in 2014. Their new powers include being able to borrow up to £5 billion and extra control over tax and benefits.