Parliament and Government

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  • What is devolution?

    Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central body to subordinate regional bodies. The UK Parliament at Westminster has devolved different powers to three bodies: the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    The Scotland Act 1998 provided for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Under the terms of the Act, the Scottish Parliament is able to pass laws affecting Scotland on a range of issues, which are known as devolved matters. The Act also gives the Scottish Parliament the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound.

  • What is meant by devolved and reserved matters?

    Devolved matters are those on which the Scottish Parliament can pass laws. Devolved matters include:

    • agriculture, forestry and fishing
    • education and training
    • environment
    • Gaelic
    • health
    • housing
    • law and home affairs
    • local government
    • natural and built heritage
    • planning
    • police and fire services
    • social work
    • some aspects of transport, including the Scottish road network and bus policy
    • sport and the arts
    • statistics and public records
    • tourism and economic developmen

    The Scotland Act 1998, which provided for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, specifies certain issues on which the Scottish Parliament cannot pass legislation. These areas, for which only the UK Parliament at Westminster can pass laws, are known as reserved matters. Reserved matters include:

    • abortion, human fertilisation and embryology, genetics and vivisection
    • common markets
    • constitutional matters
    • data protection
    • employment legislation
    • energy: electricity, coal, gas and nuclear energy
    • equal opportunities
    • fiscal, economic and monetary system
    • gambling and the National Lottery
    • immigration and nationality
    • social security
    • some aspects of transport, including marine and air transport, transport safety and regulation, and driver and vehicle licensing and testing
    • trade and industry, including competition and customer protection
    • UK defence and national security
    • UK foreign policy
  • What can the Scottish Parliament do?

    The main functions of the Parliament are:

    - to hold the Scottish Government to account through oral and written questions, and through scrutiny of its policies in the committees
    - to make laws on devolved matters by examining, amending and voting on bills
    - to debate important topical issues and
    - to conduct inquiries and publish reports.

    The Scottish Parliament also has the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound.

  • What are the Scottish Parliament's key principles?

    On 9 June 1999, the Scottish Parliament endorsed the Report of the Consultative Steering Group on the Scottish Parliament, Shaping Scotland’s Parliament. This report set out four key principles:

    - the Scottish Parliament should embody and reflect the sharing of power between the people of Scotland, the legislators and the Scottish Executive (currently known as the Scottish Government)
    - the Scottish Executive should be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and the Parliament and Executive should be accountable to the people of Scotland
    - the Scottish Parliament should be accessible, open, responsive and develop procedures which make possible a participative approach to the development, consideration and scrutiny of policy and legislation and
    - the Scottish Parliament in its operation and its appointments should recognise the need to promote equal opportunities for all.

  • Who are the party leaders in the Scottish Parliament?

    The leaders of the five parties currently represented in the Scottish Parliament are:

    Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP (Scottish National Party)
    Iain Gray MSP (Scottish Labour Party)
    Ruth Davidson MSP (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
    Willie Rennie MSP (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
    Patrick Harvie MSP (Scottish Green Party)*

    * Patrick Harvie is co-convener of the Scottish Green Party. The other co-convener, Eleanor Scott, is not an MSP.

  • What is the difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government?

    The relationship between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government is similar to that between the UK Parliament at Westminster and the UK Government.

    The Scottish Parliament comprises all 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and is the law-making body for devolved matters. It considers proposed legislation and scrutinises the activities and policies of the Scottish Government through debates, parliamentary questions and the work of committees. The Scottish Government is the government in Scotland for devolved matters and, as such, it is responsible for defining and implementing policy in these areas. It is headed by the First Minister and is made up of those MSPs who have been appointed by the First Minister as Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers.

    More information about the composition and roles of these institutions can be found in The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government - what is the difference?.

  • Which party currently forms the government in Scotland?

    In the elections on 5 May 2011, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained an absolute majority and currently forms the Scottish Government. More information about the government can be found on the Scottish Government website.

  • How do I find out about government policies and ministerial remits?

    The Scotland Act 1998 uses the terms Scottish Ministers and junior Scottish Ministers, but the current government refers to these as Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers respectively.

    Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers are members of the Scottish Government, which is the government in Scotland for devolved matters. It is the Scottish Government, rather than the Scottish Parliament, which is responsible for the policies promoted by Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers. For information about ministerial remits and policies, you should consult the Scottish Government website or contact the Scottish Government Central Enquiry Unit (

  • How can I contact Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers?

    Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers can be contacted through the Scottish Government, not the Scottish Parliament. Details of how to contact them can be found on the Scottish Government website.

  • What is the role of the Scotland Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland?

    The Scotland Office is the UK Government office that promotes the devolution settlement and represents Scottish interests in matters that are reserved to the UK Parliament under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998. It is headed by the Secretary of State for Scotland and is part of the Ministry of Justice.

    More information about the work of the Scotland Office and the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland can be found on the Scotland Office website.

  • How is Scottish devolution financed and who makes the decisions on funding?

    All taxes raised in the United Kingdom are paid into the UK Consolidated Fund and, in line with the UK Treasury’s Statement of Funding Policy, the UK Parliament votes how much should be paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund (SCF). The mechanism by which this is determined by Westminster is known as the ‘Block and Formula’. The size of the block is calculated with reference to the previous year's figure, adjusted by an increase or decrease in accordance with the Barnett Formula. (A research briefing on the Barnett Formula is available on the UK Parliament website.)

    Decisions on the allocation of money from the SCF are made by Scottish Ministers, who are accountable to the Scottish Parliament for all payments made from the fund.

  • What is the budget for Scotland?

    The Scottish Government's budget for 2011-12 is around £33.6 billion. Information about budget proposals and related documentation are available on the Scottish Government website.

  • How can I find out about the budget process?

    The Scottish budget process is made up of three stages. These are outlined on the Scottish Government website. Information about the budget and the budget process is available in the Economy and Finance briefings on our website.

  • How much does it cost to run the Scottish Parliament?

    For the financial year ending on 31 March 2011, the total revenue expenditure of the Scottish Parliament was £72.8 million. This figure is made up of:

    • administration and property running costs for the Parliament of £17.2 million
    • parliamentary staff salaries of £25.9 million
    • MSP salaries of £10.7 million
    • Members' costs (which enable the MSPs to obtain staff and accommodation to help them carry out their parliamentary duties) of £11.4 million.
    • funding for the salaries and running costs of the Commissioners and Ombudsman of £7.6 million.
  • Is there a State Opening of the Scottish Parliament by the Queen each year?

    Her Majesty The Queen attended the official opening of the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 1999 and the opening of the new Scottish Parliament building on 9 October 2004. She also attended events to mark the opening of the second, third and fourth sessions of the Parliament on 3 June 2003, 30 June 2007 and 1 July 2011 respectively.

    However, there is no equivalent in the Scottish Parliament to the State Opening of the UK Parliament at Westminster, which normally takes place each year at the start of the parliamentary session.

  • What is the difference between an MSP and an MP, and what do they do?

    There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). MSPs represent their constituents on devolved matters in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. For more information, see Holyrood and Westminster - who does what? There are 59 MPs (Members of Parliament) representing Scotland in the House of Commons at Westminster in London. Their role is to represent their constituents on reserved matters.

    You should contact your MSP(s) if you wish to raise an issue about a devolved matter and your MP if you wish to raise an issue about a reserved matter. If you are unsure whether a matter is devolved or reserved, contact Public Information.

  • Can the UK Parliament still pass laws that affect Scotland on devolved matters?

    Yes. However, by convention, the UK Parliament would not normally do so without seeking the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

    The way in which the UK Parliament obtains this consent is through a legislative consent motion. Essentially, this is a short statement indicating that the Scottish Parliament is content for the UK Parliament to legislate on a devolved matter. This motion is usually proposed by a member of the Scottish Government, but it can be put forward by any MSP. MSPs will have an opportunity to discuss and vote on it.

  • Does the UK Parliament have to approve bills passed by the Scottish Parliament before they can become laws?

    No. However, all bills passed by the Scottish Parliament must be given royal assent by HM The Queen before they can come into force.

  • What happens to the Scottish Government when a general election is called?

    The Scottish Government (the government in Scotland for devolved matters, which was formerly known as the Scottish Executive) continues in office until a new First Minister and new Scottish Ministers are agreed by the Parliament and appointed by Her Majesty The Queen after the election.