Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Guide to the Scottish Parliament


A tour of the Scottish Parliament

The campaign for devolution in Scotland culminated in 1999, with the establishment of a Scottish Parliament.

In the three centuries since the Treaty of Union, discontent - to put it mildly - was expressed at being governed from London.

The Scotland Act of 1998 paved the way for the creation of a Scottish Parliament capable of passing laws affecting Scotland on a range of issues, known as devolved matters.

The powers given to the Parliament include the ability to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence in the pound - an option unused so far by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).


The Scottish Parliament scrutinises and monitors the devolved Scottish Government and makes laws for Scotland.

Although government ministers are drawn from the Parliament, the two institutions are legally separate and have their own distinct roles.

The Scottish Parliament's devolved powers are not supreme and ultimately are only granted at the discretion of the Westminster Parliament. Some areas remain the preserve of the UK Parliament - and Scotland remains part of the UK.

Nevertheless, decisions over vital areas like health, education and housing are now made in Scotland.

Devolution was intended to bring a new politics to Scotland.

By relocating decision-making closer to the people of Scotland, the aim was to increase access to the democratic process and as a result, raise the accountability of those elected to the Parliament.

Has devolution succeeded? That remains a matter of opinion - and the subject of fierce debate.

Even the Parliament building at Holyrood has proved controversial . It cost more than £400m and was delivered three years late.

Current MSPs
SNP (65)
Scottish Labour (37)
Scottish Conservative (15)
Scottish Liberal Democrats (5)
Scottish Green Party (2)
Independent (4)
Presiding Officer (1)

One of the Parliament's exterior walls bears 24 carved inscriptions , including one from Sir Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian. It reads:

"When we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o' our ain, we could aye peeble them wi' stanes when they werena gude bairns."

Scott's words serve as a reminder to MSPs that they are firmly back in the heartland of Scotland, surrounded by their electorate, the people of Scotland.

Find out how and when you can visit the Scottish Parliament by going to its website.

  • The Scottish Parliament sat for the first time on 12 May 1999 and was opened officially opened on 1 July 1999
  • Members of the Scottish Parliament are called MSPs
  • There are 129 MSPs, elected by mixed member proportional representation
  • The Parliament meets in full under the chairmanship of its Presiding Officer

  • The Scottish Parliament makes laws for Scotland and scrutinises and monitors the devolved Scottish Government
  • 73 MSPs are directly elected from single constituencies
  • 56 MSPs are elected from eight multi-member Scottish regional areas
  • It has the power to alter the basic rate of income tax by up to three pence


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