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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Devolution and the general election
Analysis
By David Porter
BBC News Scottish parliamentary correspondent

Holyrood Chamber
The new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh
On the face of it, it seems a bit strange that Scotland' s political cognoscenti are preparing themselves for an election which in many areas will NOT directly affect the voters.

After devolution, politics is a bit different north of the border.

Following the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999, large parts of every day 'bread and butter' political issues in Scotland are decided not in Westminster but in the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh.

In a very simplified form this is how it works.

The government at Westminster decides how much money Scotland gets and broadly Scotland decides how the money should be spent. In shorthand London decides the size of the overall cake and Holyrood works out how it should be divided up

Health, education and transport are all matters devolved to the politicians in Edinburgh.

So, with the exception of certain UK-wide regulatory functions, it is the MSPs who decide money and policy in these areas.

Man in wheelchair
Personal care is free in Scotland

University tuition fees and the costs of personal care for the elderly have already been abolished, so these will be some ''dogs that won't bark'' north of the border.

However, with Labour ruling in Scotland in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the party will still be judged on how it performs on key areas like health and education - even though MSPs are not standing for election, and some policies might be different from those of the party at Westminster.

And post-devolution, Westminster still has a pretty loud voice in Scotland..

Foreign affairs, defence and the economy are all so called '' reserved issues '' dealt with directly by MPs in London.

Different campaign

So it will be a different campaign in Scotland.

What is making the headlines in England may not register in Scotland.

Having fought a general election in 2001 under devolution, the political parties and the voters are pretty much at ease with the system.

There are other differences too.

England may be used to three-party politics, in Scotland it is the case of double that.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are joined north of the border by the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens, and all six are represented in the Holyrood Parliament.

Single issue candidates have also faired better recently in Scotland, so it will be interesting to see if the campaign seeking to preserve the separate identity of Scotland's infantry regiments can score any hits.

Fewer seats

Another difference: this time there will be fewer seats up for grabs in Scotland.

Because of boundary changes the number of Westminster constituencies is being cut at this election from 72 to 59.

It means some famous political names will be fighting new seats.

And as a consequence of this, Westminster and Holyrood constituencies will no longer share the same boundaries. In the language of psephologists they will no longer be ''co-terminus ''. That may upset some political anoraks, but it's unlikely to voters will care much.

They will vote for the party or candidate they agree with most, if they bother to vote at all.

At the last Scottish elections in 2003 for the Scottish Parliament, turnout was below 50%.

That's something all the parties can agree on this time.

They all want to see more than half of the eligible Scottish voters going to the polls.



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