Equipping Christians for the 2016 Elections

Scotland-How Does It Work?

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How Does it Work?


The Scottish Parliament

The Election

The Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 following a referendum of the Scottish people in 1997 and after the passing of the Scotland Act in the Westminster Parliament in 1998.

The Scotland Act passed legislative authority in a number of areas to the Scottish Parliament. These areas are known as devolved matters. They cover agriculture, forestry and fisheries, education and training, environment, health and social services, housing, law and order, local government, sport and the arts, tourism, economic development and transport, including Road Traffic Regulations, which covers offences such as drink-driving and speeding.

However, some issues – in general, those with a UK-wide or international impact – remain the responsibility of the UK Parliament alone, and are known as reserved matters. These are benefits and social security, immigration, defence, foreign policy, employment, broadcasting, trade and industry, nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity, consumer rights, data protection, and the Constitution.

The Scotland Act 2012 lists further matters to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Some of these – for example, powers over drink-driving and speed limits – have now been devolved.

The Scotland Bill 2015-16 proposes to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament which will be in force from May 2016 onwards. The Bill proposes, among other things devolving the power to regulate elections to the Scottish Parliament, to raise some taxes, including variation of income tax by up to 10p in the pound, to introduce some new welfare benefits and to offset cuts to benefits which apply in England and Wales and to legislate on abortion.


The Scottish Parliament has a single chamber. There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and they are elected under two separate systems. Every elector at a Scottish Parliament election has two votes: one for their local constituency and one for the wider region in which they live.

How the Parliament relates to the Scottish Government

The Party with the most seats, or a coalition of parties with a working majority, forms the Scottish Government. All Scottish Government Ministers must be members of the Scottish Parliament. In voting for the Scottish Parliament, therefore, one is also voting for the Scottish Government.

How MSPs are elected

Each registered voter has two votes. With one vote, electors choose between candidates standing in their constituency. The candidate winning the largest number of votes will gain the constituency seat – the first-past-the post system of election. There are 73 constituency MSPs.

The other vote is for a political party, or for a candidate standing as an individual, within a larger electoral area called a Scottish Parliament region. There are eight Scottish Parliament regions and each region has seven seats in the Parliament. In each region, parties are allocated seats depending on the number of votes they receive in this regional ballot, while also taking into account the number of constituency seats they have won in the region. The members chosen to fill these additional 56 seats are known as regional MSPs or list MSPs.

Constituency MSPs and regional MSPs have the same voting rights in the Parliament.


Committees are small groups of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who meet on a regular basis to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Government, conduct inquiries into subjects within their remit and examine legislation. The committees play an important role in the Scottish Parliament because, unlike the UK Parliament at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament is a single-chamber Parliament, with no upper house or second chamber which would revise and scrutinise legislation.

There are two types of committee: mandatory committees dealing with the processes of government and subject committees responsible for particular areas of legislation. Committees are normally established at the beginning of each parliamentary session.

How laws are passed

Any Bill introduced to Parliament, whether originating from the Scottish Government or an individual MSP, is allocated to the most appropriate committee to guide the bill through the parliamentary process. Each bill goes through three stages:

  • Stage One: the Bill is introduced to, and debated in principle by, the whole Parliament. In preparation for this debate the committee responsible for the Bill takes written and oral evidence from witnesses. At the end of Stage 1 the Committee’s report is presented for a debate and vote in the Parliament’s Debating Chamber in which all MSPs (not just members of the relevant Committee) can participate.
  • Stage Two: the committee considers any amendments to the Bill which have been lodged by MSPs. The committee may also take further evidence from witnesses at stage 2.
  • Stage Three: the amended Bill is presented to the full Parliament for debate by all MSPs and a decision taken as to whether it should be accepted into law or rejected. Further amendments can also be proposed at this stage.

The Scottish Parliament also makes secondary legislation such as statutory instruments, regulations and orders. These allow the Parliament to stipulate specific requirements, broadly set out in Bills and Acts. There are three levels of procedure for considering Scottish Statutory Instruments (‘affirmative’, ‘negative’ and ‘simply laying’) each of which receives a different level of scrutiny. All Scottish Statutory Instruments are considered by the Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee which decides whether to draw them to the attention of the whole Parliament.

For more information on the Scottish Parliament: www.scottish.parliament.uk

For more information on the Scottish Government: www.gov.scot

You will find more news about CARE for Scotland at: www.care.org.uk/scotland


The Scottish Parliament Election

What happens on Election Day?

On this day, 129 MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) will be elected to make up the Parliament. The MSPs elected subsequently will choose which parties will from the next Scottish Government.

When will it take place?

The Scottish Parliament election will take place on 5th May 2016.

Where will I vote?

There are 73 constituencies in Scotland, voting will take place in each. To see which candidates are standing for election in your constituency and find a polling station, click here. You can also apply to vote by proxy, having someone vote on your behalf, or by post.

How will it work?

Everyone in Scotland has 8 MSPs representing them. One MSP will be elected from each constituency and seven MSPs from each region. MSPs are elected on the basis of the Additional Member System of Proportional Representation (PR). This means that each person has two votes, one for a constituency and one for the regional list. The regional list is used to top up the Scottish Parliament to make the outcome more proportional. A complicated formula is used to allocate additional members based upon the number of votes cast for each party on the regional vote and the number of constituencies each party has won in the region. In the ballots for constituencies and regional lists, voters mark the ballot paper with an X next to their preferred candidate or political party.

Who will be in government?

In Scotland the party with the largest number of MSPs elected normally forms the Scottish Government. In the first three Scottish Parliamentary Elections, no one party had an overall majority. In the first two parliamentary sessions Labour/Lib Dem coalition governments were formed and in the third session a minority SNP government was formed. At the last election in 2011, the SNP won an overall majority and formed the Scottish Government which was in office during the fourth parliamentary session.