The Scottish Parliament
This information applies to Scotland only
The Scottish Parliament formally opened on 1 July 1999. It is a devolved Parliament which has been set up to legislate for Scotland's domestic affairs.
The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for all matters (known as devolved matters) which have not been formally reserved to Westminster (see under heading Powers retained by Westminster). It therefore has the power to create new legislation, or amend or repeal existing legislation, in the following areas:-
- consumer advocacy and advice
- equal opportunities
- education and training
- local government
- social work
- tourism and economic development
- many aspects of transport (including parking, speed limits and traffic signs)
- law and home affairs (including, the police and the emergency services)
- the environment
- agriculture, forestry and fishing
- sport and the arts
- gaming machines in betting premises
- statistics, public registers and records
- natural and built heritage
- local income tax and taxation
- some aspects of social security, also known as welfare benefits, and employment support.
Tax varying powers of the Scottish Parliament
Although the Westminster Parliament retains power over UK tax matters, the Scottish Parliament does have the power to vary (increase or decrease) the base rate of income tax in Scotland by up to 3 pence in the pound. It also has the power to regulate local taxation.
From April 2016, there will be a Scottish Rate of Income Tax. 10 pence in the pound will be levied by the Scottish Parliament, but this rate could vary. More information is available on the Scottish Government website at www.gov.scot.
The UK Parliament at Westminster retains powers (called reserved powers) over the following matters:-
- the constitution of the UK
- UK foreign policy
- UK defence and national security
- UK fiscal, economic and monetary policy
- immigration and nationality
- employment legislation
- common markets for UK goods and services
- many aspects of welfare benefit, also known as social security
- transport safety and regulation
- certain other matters subject to UK and GB regulation, including the National Lottery.
Relations with Westminster
The Scottish Parliament is a devolved Parliament, which means that the UK Parliament at Westminster remains sovereign. Technically the Westminster Parliament retains the power to legislate on Scottish devolved matters. However, it has agreed not to do so, unless it has the prior consent of the Scottish Parliament.
There continues to be a Secretary of State for Scotland in the UK Cabinet in London. Her/his role is to work with the Scottish Parliament and represent the interests of Scotland within the UK government.
The Public Information and Resources Service can provide information on the Scottish Parliament, its membership, business and procedures. It produces a range of publications and fact sheets that provide information about the Scottish Parliament – from how the Parliament works, to how to get involved. You can contact the Scottish Parliament as follows:-
There is more information about ways to contact the Scottish Parliament, including options for BSL users and live chat options, on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
Visiting the Parliament
It is possible for members of the public to visit Holyrood and watch Parliament business. They can also explore the public areas of the building, or take a guided tour.
The main chamber, where the Parliament holds its full meetings, has a public gallery with over 200 seats. There are also dedicated spaces for wheelchair users.
Most committee meetings are also open to the public.
Tours of the Parliament are run on non-business days which means all Saturdays; Monday and Friday in weeks when Parliament is sitting, and all weekdays during recess. The Parliament is closed on Sunday.
The Parliament also has a creche.
If you want to attend a meeting of the Parliament, you should check to see when the Parliament will next be sitting and that it is not in recess. If you want to attend a specific debate or committee meeting, you should check to see when this is due to take place. You can check this by consulting the Parliament’s Business Bulletin or by contacting Visitor Services at the Scottish Parliament.
Visitors to the Parliament who want to explore the public areas of the building can simply turn up without making a booking in advance. However, if you want to attend a particular debate in the Chamber, or go on a guided tour, you should reserve a ticket in advance. Advance reservations can be made by contacting Visitor Services at the Scottish Parliament.
It is also possible for members of the public to sit in on the meetings of the committees of the Scottish Parliament. Some Committees are not open to the public. You must check first. Committee meetings usually take place in the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, although they may travel to other venues around Scotland as well. It is worth noting that the Committee Rooms have fewer public seats than the main chamber. If you want to attend a committee meeting you should therefore reserve a seat in advance by contacting Visitor Services at the Parliament.
Lobbying the Parliament
If you feel strongly about a particular cause or issue, you may wish to lobby MSPs about it. One way of doing this is to raise a petition. The Scottish Parliament will consider any admissable public petition addressed to it. A petition can be brought by:-
- an individual; or
- an organisation or group; or
- a group of people with no connection to each other.
There are rules about the form in which petitions must be presented to the Scottish Parliament and to whom they should be addressed. There is more information about how to submit a public petition on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot. If you want to organise a mass lobby of the Scottish Parliament, you should note that this will have to take place outside as there is no circulating space within the public area of the Parliament building.
There is more information about how you can influence the work of the Scottish Parliament on its website at www.parliament.scot.
The 129 elected representatives of the Scottish Parliament are known as Members of the Scottish Parliament (or MSPs for short).
The Scottish Parliament is different from the UK Parliament because each person in Scotland is represented by eight MSPs - a single constituency MSP plus seven regional (or additional) MSPs.
All MSPs have equal status in the Parliament and no distinction is made between regional and constituency members.
Finding out who constituent and regional MSPs are
You can find out who your MSPs are by:-
- contacting the Scottish Parliament Public Information Service; or
- using the postcode search facility on the Parliament's website at www.parliament.scot; or
- looking at the ‘Your MSPs’ leaflet for your area from the Parliament’s website at www.parliament.scot; or
- asking at a local library for details of the nearest constituency 'Partner Library' - there is at least one in each of the 73 constituencies, where a wide variety of Parliamentary information is available; or
- contacting the MSP's political party headquarters, if you know which party your MSP represents (see under heading The political parties).
A candidate does not have to belong to a political party to be elected to the Scottish Parliament. S/he may be elected as an independent MSP.
When to contact an MSP
You can contact an MSP about any of the issues that are dealt with by the Scottish Parliament. These are called devolved matters (see under heading Powers of the Scottish Parliament for a full list of devolved matters).
Issues which are dealt with by the UK Parliament at Westminster are called reserved matters. Although you can approach an MSP about reserved matters, you will probably find it more effective to speak to your Westminster MP instead. The Westminster MP will be in a better position to act on your behalf and to provide a response on reserved issues.
Deciding which MSP(s) to contact
Every person in Scotland is represented in the Scottish Parliament by eight MSPs - one constituency MSP plus seven regional (or additional) MSPs (see under heading How the MSPs are elected). If you want to raise a matter with an MSP you have a choice about which of your eight MSPs to contact.
One MSP has been elected to represent your local constituency, so if the matter is about a very local issue, you may wish to contact that MSP initially.
The remaining seven MSPs represent the region that you live in. Therefore, if the issue you wish to raise is one which affects the whole region, rather than just the local constituency, you may wish to consider approaching one or more of the regional MSPs.
An MSP is expected to represent equally and impartially all her/his constituents, whether at a constituency or regional level. You can approach any of the eight MSPs who represent the area in which you live, regardless of whether you voted for them or not. However, you may find it more effective to approach, in the first instance, an MSP whose party is known to be supportive of the issue you wish to raise.
What can an MSP do to help
An MSP can help you by raising the matter with the Parliament, in one or more of the following ways:-
- asking a Parliamentary Question
- initiating a debate
- moving an amendment to a Bill
- introducing a Member's Bill
- contacting the Minister.
Some of these approaches allow for the matter to be dealt with in private. If a matter goes before the Parliament it becomes a public matter. You should tell your MSP if you don't want the matter to be dealt with in public.
General Elections at the beginning of a session
There are 129 members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who are normally elected by general election every four years, although the session of Parliament that started in 2016 lasts for five years. Each voter at a Scottish Parliament election has two votes. The first vote is for a constituency member and the winner will be the candidate who gets the largest number of votes in the constituency. There are a total of 73 constituency members. The second vote is for a political party, or candidate standing as an individual, within a larger region. These regional members are elected by a system of proportional representation called the Additional Member system (AMS). There are eight Scottish Parliament regions in Scotland and each region has seven seats in the Parliament (a total of 56).
All members of the Scottish Parliament, however they are elected, have the same rights and responsibilities.
What happens when an MSP dies or gives up the seat
When an MSP dies or gives up their seat, in between election times, what happens about the vacancy depends on whether they were voted in as a constituency MSP or gained a seat from the regional list. As there may be a prospective MSP from the regional list they may be able to take the seat. If there is no-one able to take the seat from the regional list the seat is left vacant until the next election. A by-election will have to be held to find a replacement MSP when the person who dies or gave up the seat was a constituency MSP.
How frequent are the elections
A general election for the Scottish Parliament can be called before four years have passed but this can only happen in certain special circumstances, for example, if there is a vote of no confidence in the Government.
There is more information about MSPs and their work on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
The Scottish Parliament works in two main ways, through:-
- full meetings of the Parliament, which all 129 MSPs can attend; and
- committee meetings.
Committees of the Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament has set up committees to deal with issues such as equal opportunities, finance and delegated powers. In addition, the Parliament can establish subject committees to deal with a particular subject or area of public policy.
Every new piece of legislation proposed by the Scottish Parliament will have to be scrutinised by one or more of the committees. The committees can also initiate legislation themselves.
In most cases a committee consists of 5-15 MSPs who have been selected to reflect the balance of the various political parties and groupings in the Parliament. Each committee is chaired by a convener. Committee meetings are normally held in public and can take place anywhere in Scotland. A committee can also invite witnesses to attend the meeting to give evidence.
There is more information about the work of committees in the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
Who's who in the Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament consists of 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). One of the MSPs is elected by the Parliament to serve as its Presiding Officer (equivalent to the Speaker role in the Westminster Parliament). The Presiding Officer is responsible for chairing the Parliament and ensuring the efficient running of Parliamentary business. There are two deputy Presiding Officers.
In practice, the party, or parties, with the majority of seats in the Parliament forms the Scottish government, known as the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is made up of:-
- The First Minister - the head of the Scottish Government and the equivalent of the Prime Minister in the UK Government
- Two Scottish Law Officers - the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland
- Scottish Cabinet Secretaries - appointed by the First Minister. Each Cabinet Secretary will be given a particular area of responsibility (known as a portfolio)
- Scottish Ministers - appointed by the First Minister to assist the Cabinet Secretaries with government business.
There is information about who currently holds these positions on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
When does the Parliament meet
A session of the Scottish Parliament normally lasts for four years. Each four year session is divided into Parliamentary years. The first Parliamentary year begins on the date of the first meeting after the general election.
Each Parliamentary year is divided into two periods:-
- sitting days - when the Parliament or its committees can meet; and
- recess - where the Parliament and its committees are not meeting.
The dates of the Parliamentary recess will usually be organised to coincide with school holidays. There is more information about the dates when the Parliament is in recess on the Scottish Parliament website under ‘Recess Dates’ at www.parliament.scot, or contact the Public Information Service, see under heading How to contact the Scottish Parliament.
How Scottish law is made
The Scottish Parliament has the power to produce legislation on any devolved matter. Legislation on these matters can be passed by the Scottish Parliament without having to go through the Westminster Parliamentary process as well.
Stages of a Bill
A Bill is a proposal for legislation. There are five types of Bill:-
- Government Bills - these are introduced into the Parliament by a Minister
- Committee Bills - these are introduced into the Parliament by one of the Parliamentary committees - see under heading Committees of the Scottish Parliament
- Members' Bills - these are introduced into the Parliament by individual MSPs
- Private Bills – these are introduced into the Parliament by an individual, a company or a group of individuals
- Hybrid Bills - these are introduced into the Parliament by a Minister and make provision for public law although they also impact directly on the interests of private individuals or bodies.
The process that a Bill will follow in the Scottish Parliament will depend on the type of Bill. The most usual process will be as follows:-
- Stage 1 -The lead committee and the Parliament will consider the general principles of the Bill and decide whether they are agreed to
- Stage 2 -The lead committee, and depending on the Bill, one or more of the other committees, will consider the details of the Bill and suggest any amendments
- Stage 3 -The full Parliament will look at the amended Bill and may consider further amendments; it will then decide whether the Bill in its final form should be passed or rejected.
Once a Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament there is normally a period of four weeks before it can be submitted to the Queen for Royal Assent.
On receiving Royal Assent a Bill becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament. There is more information about how Scottish law is made on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
Complaining about staff, services and policies
You can complain about the Scottish Parliament’s staff, services and policies to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). Information about the SPCB complaints procedure is available on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, you can then contact the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). This must usually be done within the SPSO’s time limits.
For more information about making a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman in Scotland.
Complaining about maladministration
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman deals with complaints of maladministration about the Scottish Parliament and its work.
For more information about making a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman in Scotland.
The way to make a complaint about an MSP depends on what type of complaint it is, for example a complaint could be made about their behaviour within the Parliament or more generally. Different types of complaint are dealt with by different offices within the Parliament, or by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. There is more information on the Scottish Parliament website at www.parliament.scot.
The Scottish Parliament has a Code of Conduct for MSPs. You can view this at www.parliament.scot. There is also a Code of Conduct for Scottish Government Ministers. This sets out how MSPs are expected to behave in their capacity as Government Ministers. It can be found at www.gov.scot.
A complaint must be made in writing and has to include:-
- complainant's name and address (it has to be an individual that is complaining)
- nature of complaint
- name of the MSP
- any supporting evidence.
Complaints should be made to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life (formerly the Public Standards Commissioner for Scotland):-
Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life
91 Haymarket Terrace
Tel: 0300 011 0550 or 0131 347 3890
There is more about how to complain and how a complaint is handled on the Commissioner's website at www.ethicalstandards.org.uk.