"The devolution settlement means that Scotland has a parliament with ‘devolved’
powers within the United Kingdom. Any powers which remain with the UK Parliament at
Westminster are reserved."
With the Treaty of Union in 1707 there was an outcry within Scotland. The Scottish
Parliament had been ceded to the English in what many ordinary people saw as a treacherous
move by the landed aristocracy who had sold them out. Unlike in other parts of the country such
as Wales, these institutions were allowed to remain as per the 1707 settlement. The new
Scottish Parliament has very different duties and systems to that one from three centuries ago.
The unicameral body has aspects which differ from Westminster immensely and some aspects
which still connect the two : even the system by which they are voted in is different.
The Parliament has always retained it's connections with the church. State religion and
heads of the church were an ever present force in the Parliament, being so much in control of the
education and welfare systems as they were. Law, too, is very different in Scotland as compared
to England, with Scotland not ceding it's right to these primary institutions.
The Scottish Parliament has had a turbulent history which goes back to it's roots in the
12th century. Brought together by a grouping of the nobles, clergy and representatives of the
burghs, it was based loosely on the English parliament as well as the other parliaments which
were sprouting up in Europe. It did, of course, have it's own distinct Scottish "flavour" which
was more suited to the cultural and social situation of the time. As with many such bodies at this
time its monarchy had a greater control over it as well as The Privy Council and Convention of
Royal Burghs. This meant that the Parliament had less control over what happened. It was also
only very loosely organised, with the Monarch calling Parliament wherever he or she happened
to be at that time. If the Sovereign of the time backed any particular process it was likely to be
done. Even at this time, though, committees and sub-committees were created and organised to
deal with particular matters. When in 1560 Mary Queen of Scots allowed Parliament to meet
without their monarch present it began a step towards autonomy. The church, as they had been
at the start, were still present in this Scottish Parliament but in 1638 were disallowed due to
demands by the differing religious groups within Scotland, From James VI there seemed to be a
stricter monarchic control over the Parliament and this was followed up by his Predecessor
Charles. In 1651, after Charles' execution, Scotland was beaten into accepting the rule of the
English Parliament, sending only 30MP's to represent the whole country. It surfaced again in
1661 until, in 1707, it merged with the English Parliament. In the new Parliament the Scottish
ministers were barely represented themselves but this slowly changed throughout the
In the more recent past there was, in the 1970's, a great push towards devolution
which proposed that if 40% of the entire electorate supported it then there would be devolution.
Although 52% of those voting supported it, only 33 percent of the electorate were represented
and so it did not pass. This, in the end, might have been a good thing for the deal at that time
would have left Scotland with far less power than the more recent attempts which came about in
The White Paper, the plan for devolution in Scotland was brought about at the end of
1997. It set down what would happen within the Scottish Parliament, what was within it's
jurisdiction and how it would be set up. It allowed 19 elected representatives (or MSPs), the
Power to pass Legislation on matters which were not reserved and the power to alter tax. It was
to be made up of a First Minister, Lord Advocate, Solicitor General and ministers.
The new Parliament, of course, has it's representatives. MSP's (members of the Scottish
Parliament ) are elected to their post and serve the people from their area. Like the procedure in
Westminster, ministers are given jobs and areas to work by the First Minister. Junior ministers
are also appointed by the First Minister.
The First Minister is chosen by the Scottish Parliament and is given formal consent by the
queen. His duties and responsibilities are not unlike that of the Prime Minister. He is supported
by the Scottish Law officers : the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General. The Scottish Parliament
also has it's own officials and dedicated civil servants who, although they are still linked to
Westminster, have their priorities in the Scottish Parliament.
Unlike in Westminster, though, there is no second house. The Scottish Parliament has only it's
main Parliamentary body. It does, though, have a very different method of procedure when it
comes to legislation.
When the Parliament was opened in Scotland the decision was made to look at and adopt
the voting systems of other countries within Europe who had more representative, proportional
systems. With Scotland being as diverse is it is, proportional representation of some form would
be best suited to it, meaning that there would be no one party which held control, but a plethora
of smaller groups who could all have input on how things were to be done. The system they
introduced was the Additional Member System. This system, also used by Germany, involves
electing constituency MPs by the "first past the post" system (Which is what Westminster uses)
and "additional members" which are MSPs who represent part of the larger regional areas (of
which there are 8) The regional members are set on a list and it is their party, not they
themselves who are voted for. Depending on how many votes they are for their party will
determine weather they become an MSP. If they are at the top of the list they are likely to, but
those at the bottom of the list are unlikely to get into Parliament. This system means that each
person has 8 MSPs to represent them : their constituency member and the 7 regional members
which are chosen. Another small difference between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster is
that the Scottish Election dates are fixed to every four years. In Westminster the Prime Minister
sets a date for the election but in Scotland this can only be done by a 2/3rds majority of the
"The UK Parliament at Westminster retains power to legislate on any matter, but the
convention of devolution is that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate on devolved
matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament."
Some aspects of agriculture, farming and fisheries; sport, language, broadcasting, education,
foreign policy, most health service issues, the criminal justice and legal systems, and transport
all fall under the new Scottish Parliaments jurisdiction as well as the allowance to vary the rate
of tax. Each area which is now devolved allows Scotland to decide independently of
Westminster what it would like to do in that area. Although the powers are limited, they deal
directly with issues which are important to the running of the country : Health, Education,
Agriculture. Self-determination in these aspects allows Scotland to pass legislation on any of
these matters and thus allows a greater control for its people over their own country.
Westminster of course still has some measure of control in Scotland. there are areas in
which the Scottish Executive cannot legislate such as international matters. Although the First
Minister is responsible to the Scottish Parliament, the secretary of state is not. He or she is
responsible to Westminster.
MSPs, because of the system which elects them, are a check and balance system within
themselves. The additional members system of voting means that there is a more mixed
selection of MSP's and thus a wider representation of views, all of whom must work together,
creating compromises and alliances to pass legislation. Topics for discussion, proposals etc. can
be brought to the Parliament by MSP's who have had the subject raised in their constituency
/region. Committees may be set up or may already be in place to look over a particular
There is a wide ranging committee system within the Scottish Parliament. they are set up
to deal with things quickly and effectively as well as allowing a wider public access.
Committees within the Scottish Parliament may look into an issue or have one brought to them
by the Parliament. A committee may be of two types : mandatory or subject. Mandatory
committees include ones such as the Finance committee and European committee which are
present by law. The Subject committees are created to deal with particular subject areas, such as
the education, culture and sport committee. In either type there can be as many as fifteen
members, which will generally not include a minister, and which will represent the varied
viewpoints which are held within the subject. They sometimes also include advisors who can be
appointed. Sub-Committees are not uncommon within the committee structure. All of these
procedures are open to the Scottish public.
From such a committee or from MSP's or ministers a bill may be introduced ( these are
known as committee, members and executive bills respectively ) Most ministers, though, will
take the advice of a committee on their bill before the put it forward to be scrutinised and
decided upon. The path that a bill follows through Parliament is not unlike the procedure in
Westminster; it is looked at on it's basic sentiments by one of the parliamentary committees or
by the Parliament itself. If it passes this stage it then goes on to an appropriate committee or the
executive to be looked over in detail. Once it has been amended and very usually compromised
upon by the various factions it is sent forward to the Parliament. The bill may pass or may be put
back to be considered further, usually with recommendations. Once a bill has finally passed,
however, it will be sent to gain Royal Assent so that it may become a legal act of the Scottish
Parliament. As has been mentioned, this process is similar to Westminster, with the exception
that it is committees who scrutinise bills and proposals instead of the House of Lords.
Within Scotland, the nature of politics is very much changed from a few years previously.
with the coming of devolution, politics has become more noticeable. The new Parliament has
striven to give its people a say in their country's running as well as setting a system up so that
their votes will gain a better representation within Parliament. The cultural and social
differences that Scotland has always retained have of course been carried on, the Parliament's
law officers and education ministries being set specifically to deal with the Scottish system.
A guide to the Scottish Parliament, Robert McLean, H.N.S.O, 1999
The New British Politics, Ian Budge et al, Longman, 2001
Devolution in the United Kingdom, Vernon Bogdanor, Oxford University Press 2001