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

Holyrood cannot legislate on foreign affairs

The powers of the Scottish Parliament, established in the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, give MSPs the chance to change the way people in Scotland are housed, educate their children and receive their health care.

But those powers are not sweeping. The Scottish Parliament may only legislate on areas under its jurisdiction; Westminster still retains control over foreign policy, defence and security, for example.

Westminster, in its turn, can legislate on devolved issues on behalf of the Scottish Parliament, once MSPs (or rather Scottish ministers) have initiated - and Parliament has passed - a Sewel Motion.

The Sewel convention allows solutions to be developed in making legislation in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

Reserved matters
The constitution
Foreign affairs and defence
International development
The civil service, financial and economic matters
National security, immigration and nationality
Misuse of drugs
Trade and industry
Various aspects of transport and energy
Social security and employment
Abortion, genetics, surrogate parenting, medicines
Broadcasting and equal opportunities

In practice, the powers enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament give people who live in Scotland a different way of life to those elsewhere in the UK.

With education, health and community care, for example, that difference is marked. Decisions taken by MSPs mean that Scotland's university students are exempt from paying tuition fees and the elderly are given free care.

The block grant for Scotland for 2009-2010 is around £32bn, with the Scottish budget sitting at £33bn for the same financial year.

The Barnett formula is the 30-year-old mechanism for distributing public funding to reflect decisions affecting different parts of the country.

That disparity in public spending has led to tension between Scotland and England and their respective Parliaments - especially when it comes to legislation such as the scrapping of prescription charges .

People in England still face paying tuition fees and prescription charges and do not have access to free care for the elderly.

For many this is just the natural result of devolution, providing different solutions for different countries. Others see this as an unfair system which benefits the Scots at the expense of the English.

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