The Scottish Parliament
First Minister: Rt Hon Alex Salmond (MP, MSP) (Scottish National Party)
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing: Nicola Sturgeon (MSP) (Scottish National Party)
The proposal for the creation of a Scottish Parliament was approved in a referendum on September 11th 1997 with 1,775,045 votes (74.3%) in favour of the Parliament and 614,400 votes (25.7%) against it.
The proposal to grant this Scottish Parliament tax-varying powers also passed with 1,512,889 votes (63.5%) in favour of such powers and 870,263 votes (36.5%) against the proposal. Voter turnout: 60.4%.
The Scottish Parliament, elected on May 6th 1999, sat for the first time the following week on May 12th. It took up its full legislative powers on July 1st. It is responsible for making new laws that will affect the people of Scotland. The then government was formed of a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, reflected in the party’s choice of First Minister, Jack McConnell (Labour) and the Deputy First Ministry and Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace QC (Liberal Democrat).
Further elections to the Scottish Parliament were held on 1st May 2003. Labour was returned with 50 seats, the Tories with 18 and the Liberal Democrats with 17. The key change was the fall in the SNP vote with only 27 seats and the rise of the smaller parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party, which returned with 5 seats. A number of independent members were returned to complete the full list of 129 members.
The most recent elections were held in 2007 and saw the emergence of the first minority Scottish Government formed by the SNP. The SNP was unable to agree coalition terms with other parties after being returned with 47 seats.
The powers of the Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament is responsible for most domestic policy matters, while international matters, and those that might have a “knock-on” effect throughout the UK, remain at UK level. Key examples are given below, although the full list of devolved and reserved matters is lengthier.
Key areas of devolved responsibility: Health, Education, Transport, Housing, Training, Economic development, Rural Affairs, Environment
The policy issues that are still decided at UK level (in “Westminster”), such as Defence, Foreign Affairs, Employment Law, and Social Security.
Main Areas still covered by Westminster (reserved matters): Constitutional issues, Foreign and Defence policy; most economic policy, Social Security, Medical ethics
The Scottish Parliament, unlike many other systems of government around the world, has one chamber for legislation (a unicameral system); many countries have a bicameral system, e.g. House of Commons and the House of Lords, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The work that would have been done by a second chamber instead takes place in 17 specialised Committees, made up of MSPs. There is also a Presiding Officer, with a similar role to the Speaker of the House of Commons, i.e. in ensuring the daily business of the Parliament is conducted in an orderly and efficient manner. There are also two Deputy Presiding Officers.
The Stages of a Bill
The Parliamentary process that a Bill follows varies depending on the type of Bill. The following describes the most usual process applied to a Bill.
This consists of three stages: