Scottish Parliament

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The Scottish Parliament (Scottish Gaelic: Pàrlamaid na h-Alba; Scots: Scots Pairlament) is the national unicameral legislature of Scotland, in the Holyrood area of the capital Edinburgh. The Parliament, which is informally referred to as "Holyrood"<ref name="HolyroodName">Template:Cite web</ref> (cf. "Westminster"), is a democratically elected body comprised of 129 members who are known as Members of the Scottish Parliament or MSPs. Members are elected for four year terms under the proportional representation system. As a result, 73 MSPs represent individual geographical constituencies elected by the plurality (first past the post) system, with a further 56 returned from eight additional member regions, each electing seven MSPs.<ref name="ConstituencyMSPs">Template:Cite web</ref>

The original Parliament of Scotland (or "Estates of Scotland") was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland and existed from the early thirteenth century until the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.<ref name="HistoricalConnection">Template:Cite web</ref> As a consequence, the Parliament of Scotland merged with Parliament of England, to form the Parliament of Great Britain, which sat at Westminster in London.<ref name="HistoricalConnection"/>

Following a referendum in 1997 where the Scottish people gave their consent, the current Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998 which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature. The Act delineated the legislative competence of the Parliament — the areas in which it can make laws — by explicitly specifying powers that are "reserved" to the Parliament of the United Kingdom: all matters that are not explicitly reserved are automatically the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.<ref name="SpecifiedReservations">Template:Cite web</ref> The UK Parliament retains the ability to amend the terms of reference of the Scottish Parliament, and can extend or reduce the areas in which it can make laws.<ref>Murkens, Jones & Keating (2002) pp11</ref> The first meeting of the new Parliament took place on 12 May 1999.<ref name="FirstMeeting">Template:Cite web</ref>

Contents

[edit] History

Further information: Devolution
Image:Scottish Parliament logo.png
The Scottish Parliament's logo in English and Gaelic.

Before the Act of Union 1707, Scotland was an independent state with a legislature known as the Three Estates. Initial Scottish proposals in the negotiation over the Union suggested a devolved Parliament be retained in Scotland but this was not accepted by the English negotiators.<ref name="Treaty">Template:Cite web</ref>

For the next three hundred years, Scotland was directly governed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, at Westminster, and the lack of a Scottish Parliament remained an important element in Scottish national identity.<ref name="Devolution">Template:Cite web</ref> Suggestions for a 'devolved' Parliament were made before 1914, but were shelved due to the outbreak of the First World War.<ref name="Devolution"/> A sharp rise in nationalism in Scotland during the late 1960s fueled demands for some form of home rule or complete independence and prompted the incumbent Labour Government of Harold Wilson to set up the Kilbrandon Commission on the UK Constitution in 1969.<ref name="Devolution"/> One of the principal objectives of the commission was to examine ways of enabling more self government for Scotland, within the unitary state of the United Kingdom.<ref name="Devolution"/> Kilbrandon published his report in 1973 recommending the establishment of a directly elected Scottish Assembly to legislate for the majority of domestic Scottish affairs.<ref name="Crowther">Template:Cite web</ref>

During this time, the discovery of oil in the North Sea and the following It's Scotland's oil campaign of the Scottish National Party (SNP) resulted in rising support for Scottish independence, as well as the SNP. The party argued that the revenues from the oil were not benefiting Scotland as much as they should be.<ref name="Devolution"/> The combined effect of these events lead to the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, committing his government to some form of devolved legislature in 1974.<ref name="Devolution"/> However, it was not until 1978 that final legislative proposals for a Scottish Assembly were passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1978, an elected assembly would be set up in Edinburgh provided that the majority of the Scottish electorate voted for it in a referendum to be held on 1 March 1979. The 1979 Scotland referendum to establish a devolved Scottish Assembly failed. Although the vote was 52% in favour of a Scottish Assembly, this figure did not equal the 40% of the total electorate threshold deemed necessary to pass the measure, as 32.9% of the eligible voting population had abstained from voting.<ref name="79ref">Template:Cite web</ref>

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s demands for a Scottish Parliament grew, in part because the government of the United Kingdom was controlled by the Conservative Party, while Scotland itself elected very few Tory MPs.<ref name="Devolution"/> In the aftermath of the 1979 referendum defeat, the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly was initiated as a pressure group, leading to the 1989 Scottish Constitutional Convention with various organisations, political parties and representatives of industry taking part. Publishing its blueprint for devolution in 1995, the convention provided much of the basis for the structure of the Parliament.<ref name="ConstitutionalConvention">Template:Cite web</ref>

Devolution became part of the platform of the Labour Party which, in May 1997, took power under Tony Blair.<ref name="Devolution"/> In September 1997, a referendum of the Scottish electorate secured a majority in favour of the establishment of a new devolved Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers in Edinburgh.<ref name="ScotlandReferendum">Template:Cite web</ref> An election was held on 6 May 1999, and on 1 July 1999 power was transferred from Westminster to the new Parliament.<ref name="ScotlandElections">Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Building

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The public entrance of the distinctive Scottish Parliament building opened in October 2004.

Since September 2004 the official home of the Scottish Parliament has been a new Scottish Parliament Building, in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. Designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, some of the principal features of the complex include leaf-shaped buildings and a grass-roofed branch merging into adjacent parkland and gabion walls formed from the stones of previous buildings. Throughout the building there are many repeated motifs such as shapes based on Raeburn's Skating Minister.<ref name="Raeburn">Template:Cite web</ref> Stepped gables, and the upturned boat skylights of the Garden Lobby complete the unique<ref name="Architecture">Template:Cite web</ref> architecture. The Queen opened the new building on 9 October 2004.

Whilst the building was being constructed the Parliament's temporary home was the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.<ref name="GeneralAssemblyHall">Template:Cite web</ref> Official photographs and TV interviews were held in the courtyard adjoining the Parliament, which is part of the School of Divinity of the University of Edinburgh. This building was vacated twice to allow for the meeting of the Church's General Assembly. In May 2000, the Parliament was temporarily relocated to the former Strathclyde Regional Council debating chamber in Glasgow, and to the University of Aberdeen in May 2002.<ref name="ParliamentMeetings">Template:Cite web</ref>

In March 2006, one of the Holyrood building's roof beams slipped out of its support and was left dangling above the Conservative and Unionist back benches during a debate.<ref name="Suspension">Template:Cite web</ref> The debating chamber was subsequently closed, and MSPs moved to The Hub for one week, while inspections were carried out.<ref name="Beam">Template:Cite web</ref> During repairs, all chamber business was conducted in the Parliament's committee room two.

[edit] Officials

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The Rt. Hon George Reid MSP is the second Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

After each election to the Scottish Parliament, at the beginning of each parliamentary term, Parliament elects one MSP to serve as Presiding Officer, or speaker (currently the Rt. Hon George Reid MSP), and two MSPs to serve as deputies (currently Trish Godman MSP and Murray Tosh MSP). The Presiding Officer and deputies are elected by a secret ballot of the 129 MSPs, the only secret ballot conducted in the Scottish Parliament.<ref name="Ballot">Template:Cite web</ref> Principally, the role of the Presiding Officer is to chair chamber proceedings.<ref name="PO">Template:Cite web</ref> When chairing meetings of the Parliament, the Presiding Officer and his deputies must be politically impartial.<ref name="PO"/>

During debates the Presiding Officer (or his deputy) is assisted by one of the parliamentary clerks who give advice on how to interpret the Standing orders which govern the proceedings of meetings. The vote clerk, who sits in front of the Presiding Officer, operates the electronic voting equipment and chamber clocks.<ref name="Chamber">Template:Cite web</ref>

As a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Presiding Officer is responsible for ensuring that the Parliament functions effectively and has the staff, property and resources it requires to operate.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Convening the parliamentary bureau, which allocates time in the chamber, is another of the roles of the Presiding Officer. The bureau consists of representatives of each of the parties and agrees the timetable of business in the chamber. The Presiding Officer also represents the Scottish Parliament at home and abroad in an official capacity.<ref name="PO"/>

The Presiding Officer controls debates by calling on members to speak. If a member believes that a rule (or Standing Order) has been breached, he or she may raise a "point of order", on which the Presiding Officer makes a ruling that is not subject to any debate or appeal. The Presiding Officer may also discipline members who fail to observe the rules of the Parliament.<ref name="PO"/>

The member of the Scottish Executive whose duty it is to steer government business through Parliament is the Minister for Parliamentary Business (currently Margaret Curran MSP). The minister is appointed by the First Minister and sits in the Scottish Cabinet.<ref name="Curran">Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Procedure

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Seating in the Debating Chamber is arranged in a semicircle with Ministers sitting in the front section of the semicircle, directly opposite the Presiding Officer and parliamentary clerks.

Unlike Westminster, the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament has seating arranged in a hemicycle, which reflects the desire to encourage consensus amongst elected members.<ref name="Chamber"/> There are 131 seats in the debating chamber. Of the total 131 seats, 129 are occupied by the Parliament's elected MSPs and 2 seats for the Scottish Law Officers - the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland, who are not elected members of the Parliament but are members of the Scottish Government, which is known as the Scottish Executive. Members are able to sit anywhere in the debating chamber, but typically sit in their party groupings.<ref name="Chamber"/> The First Minister, Scottish cabinet ministers and Law officers sit in the front row, in the middle section of the chamber. The largest party in the Parliament sits in the middle of the semicircle, with opposing parties on either side.<ref name="Chamber"/> The Presiding Officer, parliamentary clerks and officials sit opposite members at the front of the debating chamber. In front of the Presiding Officers' desk is the parliamentary mace, which is made from silver and inlaid with gold panned from Scottish rivers and inscribed with the words: Wisdom, Compassion, Justice and Integrity. The words - There shall be a Scottish Parliament, which are the first words of the Scotland Act, are inscribed around the head of the mace.<ref name="Chamber"/> The mace has a formal ceremonial role in the meetings of Parliament, reinforcing the authority of the Parliament in its ability to make laws.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Presented to the Scottish Parliament, by the Queen upon its official opening in July 1999, the mace is displayed under a glass case. At the beginning of each session in the chamber, the case is removed to symbolise that a full meeting of the Parliament is taking place.<ref name="Chamber"/>

Parliament sits from Monday through to Thursday from early January through to late June and from early September through to mid December, with additional mid-sessional 2 week recesses in April and October.<ref name="Brief">Template:Cite web</ref> Full plenary meetings in the debating chamber only take place on Wednesday afternoons from 2pm to 5pm and on Thursday from 9.15am to 5pm.<ref name="Brief"/> Sittings of the Parliament are open to the public — both chamber debates and committee meetings, although to attend these, members of the public must purchase tickets in advance. Meetings are broadcast on the Parliament's own channel - Holyrood.tv<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and on the BBC's parliamentary channel BBC Parliament. Proceedings are also recorded, in text form, in print and online in Official Report which is the substantially verbatim<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> transcript of parliamentary debates.

Each sitting day begins with "Time for Reflection", which is normally the first item of business on the daily agenda.<ref name="Reflection">Template:Cite web</ref> A speaker addresses the meeting for up to four minutes to share their perspectives on issues of faith. This contrasts with the formal style of "Prayers", which is the first item of business in meetings of the British House of Commons. Speakers are drawn from different faith groups across Scotland. Invitations to address Parliament in this manner, are determined by the Presiding Officer on the advice of the parliamentary bureau. Different faith groups can make direct representations to the Presiding Officer in nominating speakers. The pattern of speakers represents the balance of religious beliefs in Scotland according to the Scottish census.<ref name="Reflection"/>

The Presiding Officer (or Deputy Presiding Officer) decides who speaks in chamber debates and the amount of time for which they are allowed to speak.<ref name="PO"/> Normally the Presiding Officer tries to achieve a balance between different viewpoints and political parties when selecting members to speak.<ref name="Chamber"/> Typically Ministers or party leaders open debates, with opening speakers given between 5 and 20 minutes; and succeeding speakers allocated less.<ref name="Chamber"/> The Presiding Officer can reduce speaking times if a high volume of members wish to participate in the debate. Debate is much more informal than in some parliamentary systems.<ref name="Burrows">Burrows, N (1999) pp241-260</ref> Members are able to call each other directly by name, rather than by constituency or cabinet position, and hand clapping is allowed in the chamber.<ref name="ConductofMeetings">Template:Cite web</ref> When making speeches, in contrast to other Westminster style legislatures such as the British House of Commons and the New Zealand House of Representatives, members do not have to address the Presiding Officer.<ref name="ConductofMeetings"/> Speeches to the chamber are normally conducted in English, but members are able to use Scots, Gaelic, or any other language for which an interpreter would be provided.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The Scottish Parliament has conducted debates in the Gaelic language.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

At the end of each sitting day in the chamber, normally 5pm, MSPs decide on all the motions and amendments that have been tabled that day, this is known as "Decision Time", and is heralded by the sounding of the division bell which is heard throughout the Parliamentary campus alerting MSPs not sitting in the chamber, to return and vote.<ref name="Chamber"/> At Decision Time the Presiding Officer goes through all motions and amendments, reading out the name of the motion or amendment as well as the proposer and asks "Are we all agreed?", to which the chamber first votes orally. If there is audible dissent, the Presiding Officer announces — "There will be a division" — and members proceed to a vote. Voting is done electronically in the Scottish Parliament by means of electronic consoles on MSPs desks. Each MSP has a unique access card with microchip, which when inserted into the console identifies them and allows them to vote.<ref name="Chamber"/> As a result, the outcome of each division is known within the space of minutes.

The outcome of most votes is largely known beforehand, since political parties normally instruct members on how to vote. A party entrusts some MSPs, known as whips, with the task of ensuring that all party members vote as desired.<ref name="ChiefWhip">Template:Cite web</ref> MSPs do not tend to vote against such instructions, since those who do so are unlikely to reach higher political ranks in their parties.<ref name="Kingdom1">Kingdom, J (1999) pp373</ref> Errant members can be deselected as official party candidates during future elections, and, in serious cases, may be expelled from their parties outright.<ref name="Kingdom1">Kingdom, J (1999) pp374</ref> Thus, the independence of Members of the Scottish Parliament tends to be extremely low, and "backbench rebellions" by members discontent with their party's policies are rare.<ref name="Kingdom2">Kingdom, J (1999) pp374</ref> In some circumstances, however, parties announce "free votes", allowing Members to vote as they please. This is done on moral issues.<ref name="Kingdom3">Kingdom, J (1999) pp375</ref>

Immediately after Decision Time a "Members Debate" is held, which lasts for 45 minutes.<ref name="Chamber"/> Members Business is a debate on a motion proposed by an MSP who is not a Scottish minister. Such motions are on issues which may be of interest to a particular area (such as the members' own constituency), an upcoming or past event or any other item which would otherwise not be accorded official parliamentary time. As well as the proposer, other members normally contribute to the debate. The relevant minister whose department, the debate and motion relate to, "winds-up" the debate by speaking after all other participants.

[edit] Committees

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Committees, which are small groups of elected MSPs, scrutinise legislation and conduct inquiries in one of the specifically designed Committee Rooms of the Scottish Parliament.

Much of the work of the Scottish Parliament is done in committee. The role of committees is stronger in the Scottish Parliament than in other parliamentary systems as a means of strengthening the role of backbenchers in their scrutiny of the Executive.<ref>Dardanelli (2005) pp. 185</ref>The principal role of committees in the Scottish Parliament is to scrutinise legislation.<ref name="Committee">Template:Cite web</ref> Additionally, committees may conduct inquiries into areas under their remit. Committee meetings take place on Tuesdays or Wednesday mornings when Parliament is sitting in one of the committee rooms in the Parliament building. Committees can also meet at other locations throughout Scotland.<ref name="CommitteeMeetings">Template:Cite web</ref>

Committees are comprised of a small number of MSPs, with membership reflecting the balance of parties across Parliament.<ref name="Committee"/> There are different committees with their functions set out in different ways. Mandatory Committees are committees which are set down under the Scottish Parliament's standing orders, which govern their remits and proceedings. The current Mandatory committees of the Scottish Parliament are: Audit; Equal Opportunities; European and External Relations; Finance; Procedures; Public Petitions; Subordinate Legislation and Standards and Public Appointments.<ref name="Committee"/>

Subject committees are established at the beginning of each parliamentary sessions, and again the balance of members on each committee reflects the balance of parties across Parliament. Typically each committee corresponds with one (or more) of the departments (or ministries) of the Scottish Executive. The current Subject committees are: Communities; Education, Enterprise and Culture; Environment and Rural Development; Health; Justice 1; Justice 2 and Local Government and Transport.<ref name="Committee"/>

A further type of committee is normally set up to scrutinise private bills submitted to the Scottish Parliament by an outside party or promoter who is not a member of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Executive. Private bills normally relate to large scale development projects such as infrastructure projects that require the use of land or property.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Private Bill committees have been set up to consider legislation on issues such as the development of the Edinburgh Tram Network, the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, the Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link and extensions to the National Gallery of Scotland.<ref name="PrivateBillCommitteeMeetings">Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Legislative functions

[edit] Constitution and powers

The Scotland Act 1998 which was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and given Royal Assent by Queen Elizabeth II on 19 November 1998,<ref name="ScotlandAct1998">Template:Cite web</ref> governs the functions and role of the Scottish Parliament and delimits its legislative competence. For the purposes of parliamentary sovereignty, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, at Westminster continues to constitute the supreme legislature of Scotland,<ref name="UKParliament">Template:Cite web</ref> but under the terms of the Scotland Act, Westminster agreed to devolve some of its responsibilities over the domestic policy of Scotland to a new directly elected Scottish Parliament.<ref name="UKParliament"/> Such matters are known as "devolved matters" and include education, health, agriculture and justice.<ref name="devolvedmatters">Template:Cite web</ref> The Scotland Act enabled the Scottish Parliament to pass primary legislation on these issues. A degree of domestic authority, and all foreign policy, remains at present with the UK Parliament in Westminster.<ref name="devolvedmatters"/> The Scottish Parliament has the power to pass laws and has limited tax-varying capability.<ref name="powers">Template:Cite web</ref> Another of the roles of the Parliament is to hold the Scottish Executive to account.

The specific devolved matters are all subjects which are not explicitly stated in Section 5 of the Scotland Act as reserved matters. All matters that are not specifically reserved are automatically devolved to the Scottish Parliament.<ref name="devolvedmatters"/> Most importantly, this includes agriculture, fisheries and forestry, economic development, education, environment, food standards, health, home affairs, Scots law — courts, police and fire services, local government, sport and the arts, transport, training, tourism, research and statistics and social work.<ref name="devolvedmatters"/> The Scottish Parliament has the ability to alter income tax in Scotland by up to 3 pence in the pound.<ref name="powers"/>

Reserved matters<ref>"The Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5: Reserved Matters", HMSO, 1998. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/80046--u.htm</ref> are subjects that are outside the legislative competence of the Scotland Parliament. The Scottish Parliament is unable to legislate on such issues that are reserved to, and dealt with at Westminster (and where Ministerial functions usually lie with UK Government ministers). These include abortion, broadcasting policy, civil service, common markets for UK goods and services, constitution, electricity, coal, oil, gas, nuclear energy, defence and national security, drug policy, employment, foreign policy and relations with Europe, most aspects of transport safety and regulation, National Lottery, protection of borders, social security and stability of UK's fiscal, economic and monetary system.<ref name="devolvedmatters"/>

Members of the public take part in Parliament in two ways that are not the case at Westminster: a public petitioning system, and cross-party groups on policy topics which the interested public join and attend meetings of, alongside MSPs.<ref name="Lawsoc">Template:Cite web</ref> The Parliament is able to debate any issue (including those reserved to Westminster) but is unable to make laws on issues that are outside its legislative competence.

[edit] Bills

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The legislative stages of a private bill differ from those of a public bill in passing through the Scottish Parliament.

As the Scottish Parliament is able to make laws on the areas constitutionally devolved to it, the legislative process begins with bills (draft laws) which are presented to Parliament.<ref name="Bills">Template:Cite web</ref>

Bills can be introduced to Parliament in a number of ways; the Scottish Executive can introduce new laws or amendments to existing laws as a bill; a committee of the Parliament can present a bill in one of the areas under its remit; a member of the Scottish Parliament can introduce a bill as a private member or a private bill can be submitted to Parliament by an outside proposer.<ref name="Bills"/> Most draft laws are Executive bills introduced by ministers in the governing party of the Executive. Bills pass through Parliament in a number of stages:<ref name="Billstages">Template:Cite web</ref>

Stage 1 is the first, or introductory stage of the bill, where the minister or member in charge of the bill will formally introduce it to Parliament together with its accompanying documents - Explanatory Notes, a Policy Memorandum setting out the policy underlying the bill and a Financial Memorandum setting out the costs and savings associated with it.<ref name="Billstages"/> Statements from the Presiding Officer and the member in charge of the bill are also lodged indicating whether the bill is within the legislative competence of the Parliament. Stage 1 usually takes place, initially, in the relevant committee or committees and is then submitted to the whole Parliament for a full debate in the chamber on the general principles of the bill.<ref name="Billstages"/> If the whole Parliament agrees in a vote to the general principles of the bill, it then proceeds to Stage 2.

Stage 2 is normally conducted entirely in the relevant committee, where amendments to the bill are proposed by committee members. At this stage, the bill is considered in substantial detail. Some bills and all emergency bills are considered in detail by a committee of the whole Parliament, in the debating chamber. The Presiding Officer acts as convener of the committee in such circumstances.<ref name="StandingOrders">Template:Cite web</ref>

Stage 3 is the final stage of the bill and is considered at a meeting of the whole Parliament. This stage is comprised of two parts - consideration of amendments to the bill as a general debate, and a final vote on the bill. Opposition members can table "wrecking amendments" to the bill, designed to thwart further progress and take up parliamentary time, in order to cause the bill to fall without a final vote being taken.<ref name="WreckingAmendments">Template:Cite web</ref> After a general debate on the final form of the bill, members proceed to vote at Decision Time on whether they agree to the general principles of the final bill.<ref name="StandingOrders"/>

Royal Assent: After the bill has been passed, the Presiding Officer submits it to Her Majesty for Royal Assent and it becomes and Act of the Scottish Parliament. However he cannot do so until a 4-week period has elapsed during which the Law Officers of the Scottish Executive or UK Government can refer the bill to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for a ruling on whether it is within the powers of the Parliament.<ref name="Devol">Template:Cite web</ref> Acts of the Scottish Parliament do not begin with a conventional enacting formula. Instead they begin with a phrase that reads: "The Bill for this Act of the Scottish Parliament was passed by the Parliament on [Date] and received Royal Assent on [Date]".

[edit] Scrutiny of government

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The current First Minister, the Rt. Hon Jack McConnell MSP answering oral questions in the Scottish Parliament's debating chamber, at the weekly First Minister's Question Time, held on Thursdays at noon.

The party or parties which hold the majority of seats in the Parliament forms the Scottish Executive. In contrast to many other parliamentary systems, Parliament elects a First Minister from a number of candidates at the beginning of each parliamentary term (after a general election).<ref name="FM">Template:Cite web</ref> Any member can put their name forward to be First Minister and a vote is taken by all members of Parliament. Normally the leader of the largest party is returned as First Minister, and head of the Scottish Executive.<ref name="FM"/> Theoretically Parliament also elects the Scottish Ministers who form the government of Scotland and sit in the Scottish cabinet, but such ministers are, in practice, appointed to their roles by the First Minister.<ref name="Nominations">Template:Cite web</ref> Junior ministers, who do not attend cabinet, are also appointed to assist Scottish ministers in their departments. Most ministers and their juniors are drawn from amongst the elected MSPs, with the exception of Scotland's Chief Law Officers - the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General.<ref name="Brief"/> Whilst the First Minister chooses the ministers, and may decide to remove them at any time; the formal appointment or dismissal, however, is made by the Sovereign.<ref name="Nominations"/>

Under the Scotland Act 1998, ordinary general elections for the Scottish Parliament are held on the first Thursday in May every four years (1999, 2003, 2007 and so on.)<ref name="ScotlandAct2">Template:Cite web</ref> The date of the poll may be varied by up to one month either way by the Queen on the proposal of the Presiding Officer.<ref name="ScotlandAct2"/> If the Parliament itself resolves that it should be dissolved (with at least two-thirds of the Members voting in favour), or if the Parliament fails to nominate one of its members to be First Minister within certain time limits, the Presiding Officer proposes a date for an extraordinary general election and the Parliament is dissolved by the Queen by royal proclamation.<ref name="ScotlandAct3">Template:Cite web</ref>

There are different procedures enabling the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise the Executive. The First Minister or members of his cabinet can deliver statements to Parliament upon which MSPs are invited to question them. For example, at the beginning of each parliamentary session, the First Minister delivers a statement to the chamber setting out the Executive's legislative programme for the forthcoming year.<ref name="Statement1">Template:Cite web</ref> After the statement has been delivered, the leaders of the opposition parties and other MSPs question the First Minister on issues related to the substance of the statement.<ref name="Statement2">Template:Cite web</ref>

Parliamentary time is also set aside for question periods in the debating chamber. A "General Question Time" takes place on a Thursday between 11.30am and 12pm where members can direct questions to any member of the Scottish Executive.<ref name="Brief"/> At 2.30pm a 40 minute long themed "Question Time" takes place, where members can ask questions of ministers in departments that are selected for questioning that sitting day, such as health and justice or education and transport.<ref name="Brief"/> Between 12pm and 12.30pm on Thursdays, when Parliament is sitting, First Minister's Question Time takes place.<ref name="Brief"/> This gives members an opportunity to question the First Minister directly on issues under his jurisdiction. Opposition leaders ask a general question of the First Minister and then supplementary questions. Such a practice enables a "lead-in" to the questioner, who then uses their supplementary question to ask the First Minister any issue. The three general questions available to opposition leaders are:

  • To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues they intend to discuss?;
  • To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Secretary of State for Scotland and what issues they intend to discuss? and
  • To ask the First Minister what issues he intends to discuss at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's cabinet?.

Members who wish to ask general or themed questions, or questions of the First Minister, must lodge their questions with parliamentary clerks beforehand and questioners are then selected by the Presiding Officer. Written questions can also be submitted by members to ministers, for answer. Written questions and answers are published in the Official Report.<ref name="Brief"/>

[edit] Members, Constituencies and Voting systems

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The current 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 73 of whom represent individual constituencies and 56 represent eight additional member regions.

Elections for the Scottish Parliament were amongst the first in the United Kingdom to use a mixed member proportional representation (MMS) system.<ref name="PR">Template:Cite web</ref> The system is a form of the additional member method of proportional representation (PR), and is better known as such in the United Kingdom. However, there are additional member systems, elsewhere in the world, which are not designed to produce proportional representation.

Of the 129 MSPs, 73 are elected to represent first past the post constituencies and are known as "Constituency MSPs".<ref name="ConstituencyMSPs"/> Voters choose one member to represent the constituency, and the member with most votes is returned as a constituency MSP. The 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies shared the same boundaries as the UK Parliament constituencies in Scotland, prior to 2005, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland which each return their own constituency MSP. Currently, the average Scottish Parliament constituency comprises 55,000 electors.<ref name="Constituency">Template:Cite web</ref> Given the geographical distribution of population in Scotland, this results in constituencies of a smaller area, in the Central Lowlands, where the bulk of Scotland's population live and much larger constituency areas in the north and west of the country which have a low population density. The island archipelagoes, of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles comprise a much smaller number of electors, due to their disparate population and distance from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.<ref name="Constituency"/> If a Constituency MSP resigns from Parliament, this triggers a by-election in his or her constituency, where a replacement MSP is returned from one of the parties, by the plurality system.<ref name="PR"/>

The remaining 56 MSPs are elected by the additional member system. In each Scottish Parliament election, electors have a second vote, where they vote for a party instead of a constituency representative. These 56 are elected in eight different electoral regions, of which constituencies are sub-divisions.<ref name="msps">Scottish Parliament Website: MSPs</ref> Each region returns seven additional member MSPs. The eight regions are: Highlands and Islands; North East Scotland; Mid Scotland and Fife; West of Scotland; Glasgow; Central Scotland; South of Scotland; and Lothians. Each political party draws up a list on candidates standing in each electoral region.<ref name="AMSSystem">Template:Cite web</ref> The total number of seats in the Parliament are allocated to parties proportionally to the number of votes the party received in the second vote of the ballot.<ref name="AMSSystem"/> Subtracted from each party's allocation is the number of constituency seats from the first vote, that the party won.<ref name="AMSSystem"/> The number of seats remaining allocated to that party are filled using members from the party's list.<ref name="AMSSystem"/> These members are called "List MSPs". If a List MSP resigns from the Scottish Parliament, he or she is replaced by the next member on the party list.<ref name="Brownlee">Template:Cite web</ref>

In a similar fashion to the British House of Commons, there are a number of qualifications which apply to being an MSP. Such qualifications were introduced under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and the British Nationality Act 1981. Specifically, members must be over the age of 21 and must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, one of the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations or a citizen of a British overseas territory.<ref name="Disqualifications">Template:Cite web</ref> Members of the police and the armed forces are disqualified from sitting in the Scottish Parliament, as elected MSPs and similarly, civil servants and members of foreign legislatures are disqualified.<ref name="Disqualifications"/> An individual may not sit in the Scottish Parliament if they are judged to be insane under the terms of the Mental Health Act 1983; if they are subject to a Bankruptcy Restriction Order (in England and Wales only) or if his or her estate is sequestered (in Scotland).<ref name="Disqualifications"/>

[edit] Latest election

[edit] Constituency (First-Past-the-Post) results

Party Votes Seats Loss/Gain Share of Vote (%) Loss/Gain
Labour 659,879 46 -7 34.6 -4.21
Scottish National Party 449,476 9 +2 23.8 -4.96
Conservative 312,598 3 +3 16.6 +1.04
Liberal Democrats 286,150 13 +1 15.3 +1.15
Scottish Socialist 117,709 0 0 6.2 +5.19
Others 65,523 2 +1 3.4 +2.5

Total votes cast - 1,891,335.<ref name="ElectionResults">Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Top up (Additional Member System) results

Party Votes Seats Loss/Gain Share of Vote (%) Loss/Gain
Labour 561,379 4 +1 29.3 -4.34
Scottish National Party 399,659 18 -10 20.9 -6.36
Conservative 296,929 15 -3 15.5 +0.15
Liberal Democrats 225,774 4 -1 11.8 -0.63
Scottish Green 132,138 7 +6 6.9 +3.31
Scottish Socialist 128,026 6 +5 6.7 +5.69
Others 171,951 2 +2 8.9 +2.2

Total votes cast - 1,915,856<ref name="ElectionResults"/>

Overall turnout - 49.4%<ref name="ElectionResults"/>

[edit] Composition

There are currently 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament. Since October 2006, the state of the parties is as follows<ref name="byparty">Scottish Parliament Factsheet, 11 May 2006 External PDF</ref> (1999 seat totals are given in italics and Government coalition parties denoted with bullets (•)

Affiliation Members
Labour Party 50 (56)
  Scottish National Party 251 (35)
  Conservative Party 17 (18)
Liberal Democrats 17 (17)
  Scottish Green Party 7 (1)
  Scottish Socialist Party 42 (1)
  Solidarity (Scotland) 23 (0)
  Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party 1 (0)
  Independent
5 (1)
Presiding Officer
1 (1)
 Total
129
 Government Majority
5
  • 1 Was 26, but the Presiding Officer accepted voluntary expulsion from the party in order to take up that role.
  • 2 6 Scottish Socialist Party members were elected in 2003, but 2 (including the original 1 elected in 1999) defected in September 2006 to form the new Solidarity (Scotland) Party.<ref name="Solidarity">Template:Cite web</ref>
  • 3 Was formed from the split of the Scottish Socialist Party in 2006.<ref name="Solidarity"/>

The Independent MSPs are Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West), Margo MacDonald (Lothians), Dr. Jean Turner (Strathkelvin and Bearsden), Campbell Martin (West of Scotland), and Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife). These Independent MSPs, plus the sole representative of the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, form a party group in the Parliament<ref name="PartyGroup">Template:Cite web</ref> and are thus entitled to propose items of debate for their few debating slots, as well as being able to sit on the parliamentary bureau.

[edit] Criticism

Image:Wfm scottish parliament construction.jpg
Enric Miralles' Scottish Parliament complex in Holyrood Park during construction. The building was completed in 2004. Above and behind the new Parliament is the neoclassical Royal High School, which was prepared for a previous devolved Scottish parliament, but never used.

The death, in office, of Donald Dewar, Scotland's first First Minister, and the resignation, brought on by an office expenses scandal, of his successor Henry McLeish,<ref name="McLeish">Template:Cite web</ref> have generated controversy in the first years of the Parliament.<ref name="Governance">Template:Cite web</ref>

The escalating costs of the construction of the new Parliament building led to widespread criticism.<ref name="Governance"/> Popular arguments against the Parliament before the UK general election of 1997, levelled by the Conservative and Unionist Party, were that the Parliament would create a "slippery slope" to Scottish independence, and provide the pro-independence Scottish National Party with a route to power.<ref name="Devolution">Template:Cite web</ref> John Major, the Tory prime minister before May 1997, famously claimed the Parliament would end "1000 years of British history"<ref name="Major">Template:Cite web</ref>, although the political entity of the Kingdom of Great Britain was still less than 300 years old at the time. The equally pro-Union Labour Party met these criticisms by claiming that devolution would fatally undermine the SNP,<ref name="SNP">Template:Cite web</ref> and remedy the long-felt desire of Scots for a measure of self-government.<ref name="Dewar">Template:Cite web</ref>

Miralles' new Scottish Parliament building opened for business on the 7 September 2004, three years late.<ref name="Dewar"/> The estimated final cost was £431 million. The White Paper in 1997 estimated that a new building would have a net construction cost of £40 million,<ref name="Dewar"/> although this was based on the presumption that the old Royal High School would be used, as had long been assumed. After the devolution referendum it was quickly announced that the high school, which is smaller than many council chambers, was entirely inadequate for the Parliament, and negotiations began for a new building on a new site. This led critical media and politicians to claim the final building was "ten times over budget".<ref name="Budget">Template:Cite web</ref> Miralles' building was in fact costed at £109 million, prior to major increases in space.<ref name="RMJM">Template:Cite web</ref>

The cost overruns of the Scottish Parliament Building further dented confidence in public opinion in the ability of the public sector to handle major infrastructure and building projects. As a result, the final £431m cost of the Holyrood building can be compared with other cost overruns in projects such as Portcullis House — a new parliamentary office block in Westminster - built for use by 200 MPs, which cost £250 million, including £100 million spent on bronze cladding<ref name="Cost">Template:Cite web</ref>, £250m for the redevelopment of the German Reichstag,<ref name="Cost"/> £40m for the development of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre,<ref name="Cost"/> and £800m for the construction of the Millennium Dome.<ref name="Cost"/>

Lord Fraser's Inquiry reported on the 15 September 2004 and identified the choice of the construction management procurement route as the main factor in the fourfold increase in estimated costs establishing that a £270 million value building ended up costing £431 million, an identifiable waste of £181 million.<ref name="Fraser">Template:Cite web</ref> This was portrayed as clearing Donald Dewar of any blame.<ref name="Fraser"/> The cost of the building remains more controversial than any of the legislation so far passed by the Parliament.<ref name="Governance"/>

[edit] Notes

<references/>

[edit] References

  • Balfour, A & McCrone, G (2005): "Creating a Scottish Parliament", StudioLR, ISBN 0-955001-60-9
  • Burrows, N (1999): "Unfinished Business - The Scotland Act 1998", Modern Law Review, Vol. 62, No. 2 (March 1999), pp. 241-260
  • Centre for Scottish Public Policy (1999): "A Guide to the Scottish Parliament: The Shape of Things to Come", The Stationery Office Books", ISBN 0-114972-31-1
  • Dardanelli, P (2005): "Between Two Unions: Europeanisation and Scottish Devolution", Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-719070-80-5
  • Kingdom, J (1999): "Government and Politics in Britain, An Introduction", Polity, ISBN 0-7456-1720-4
  • MacLean, B (2005): "Getting It Together: Scottish Parliament", Luath Press Ltd, ISBN 1-905222-02-5
  • McFadden, J & Lazarowicz, M (2003): "The Scottish Parliament: An Introduction", LexisNexis UK, ISBN 0-406969-57-4
  • Murkens, E; Jones, P & Keating, M (2002): "Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide", Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-780748-1699-3
  • Taylor, Brian (1999): "The Scottish Parliament", Polygon, Edinburgh, ISBN 1-902930-12-6
  • Taylor, Brian (2002): "The Scottish Parliament: The Road to Devolution", Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-748617-59-0

[edit] See also

[edit] External links


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