Answers to frequently asked questions

1. What is devolution?

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

Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, the Scottish Parliament is able to pass laws on a range of issues. The Act also gives the Scottish Parliament the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to 3 pence in the pound.

Devolved matters include Education, Health (the NHS in Scotland), Agriculture and Justice. The Scotland Act also specifies certain issues on which the Scottish Parliament cannot pass legislation. These are known as reserved matters and include Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security.

For more detailed information see the devolution section.

2. What can the Scottish Parliament do?

The Scottish Parliament exists to make laws in relation to devolved matters and to scrutinise the policies of the Scottish Government.

3. How are laws made?

For Scottish Government Bills, the legislative process begins with the formulation of policy. If it is decided that primary legislation is required to implement the policy, a Bill will need to be developed.

The Government will consult widely before legislation is put before the Parliament, probably both on the policy proposals and later also on a draft Bill.

Parliamentary Committees will still expect to take evidence on Bills, however, no matter how extensive the Executive's consultations have been.

When the Bill is introduced to the Parliament, there are three stages that it must pass through:

  • Stage 1
    consideration of the general principles of the Bill by the Parliamentary Committee designated to deal with it. The Committee will report to the Parliament and, if Parliament agrees to the Bill's general principles, it will be referred back to the Committee for
  • Stage 2
    detailed consideration of the Bill, including any amendments proposed to it by the Executive and opposition MSPs. This is followed by
  • Stage 3
    final consideration of the Bill, as amended, by the Parliament who will vote on whether the Bill should be passed

After a Bill has successfully completed all three stages, it will be submitted for Royal Assent. When Royal Assent is received, the Bill becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

In addition to Scottish Ministers, Committees and MSPs can introduce Bills. In certain circumstances, a promoter can also introduce a Private Bill.

4. How is the Scottish Government formed?

After a Scottish Parliamentary election, a First Minister is formally nominated by the Parliament and appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The First Minister then appoints the Scottish Ministers to make up his Cabinet with the agreement of Parliament and the approval of Her Majesty.

5. What is the relationship between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament?

The Scottish Parliament is made up of 129 MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament). Like the UK Parliament at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament passes laws. It also scrutinises the work and policies of the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government is responsible for all devolved matters. At Devolution, the powers and duties exercised by UK Ministers in Scotland relating to devolved matters, were transferred to the Scottish Ministers. Most of the responsibilities previously held by the Scottish Office have become part of the remit of the Scottish Government.

The members of the Scottish Government are collectively referred to as ' the Scottish Ministers'. All Ministers have to be MSPs, except the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General.

6. What is the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament?

The Scottish Parliament legislates for Scotland on devolved matters. The UK Parliament at Westminster continues to legislate for Scotland on reserved matters.

In certain circumstances the Scottish Parliament may give its consent for Westminster to legislate for Scotland on devolved matters. This procedure is known as a Sewel Motion, named after the former Scottish Office Minister Lord Sewel.

7. What is the difference between an MP and an MSP?

MP stands for Member of Parliament, meaning the UK Parliament at Westminster. There are 72 MPs representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster and they are elected on a first-past-the-post voting system.

MSP stands for Member of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. There are 129 MSPs. Of these, 73 are constituency members (Orkney and Shetland, a single constituency for Westminster purposes, is split into two constituencies for the Scottish Parliament) and the remaining 56 are elected by a form of proportional representation.

8. How does the system for electing MSPs work?

The Scottish Parliament is elected according to a form of proportional representation known as the Additional Member System (AMS). This is intended to ensure that the share of seats each party receives reflects as closely as possible its level of support among voters, but it also allows each constituency to have its own representative in the Parliament.

Each voter at a Scottish Parliament election has two votes. The first vote is cast for a constituency member who will be the candidate winning the largest number of votes in a constituency (a total of 73).

The second vote is for a political party (who will provide a list of nominations), or for a candidate standing as an individual, within a larger electoral area called a Scottish Parliament region.

There are eight regions, each covering a group of constituencies: Highlands and Islands, North East Scotland, Mid Scotland and Fife, West of Scotland, Glasgow, Central Scotland, Lothians, South of Scotland.

Each region has seven seats in the Parliament (a total of 56). Members elected to these additional seats are known as "regional members".

All members of the Parliament, however they are elected, have the same rights and responsibilities.

9. Does Scotland have its own civil service?

The civil service in Scotland remains part of the Home Civil Service. However, civil servants working for the Scottish Government owe their loyalty to the devolved administration rather than the UK government.