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scottish politics and government
The Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.


Historical Background

Scotland had always been a separate nation with its own culture, its own royal family and its own parliament. In 1603 King James VI of Scotland moved to London on inheriting the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I as he was her nearest male relative. Just over 100 years later (1707), the Treaty of Union between the two countries was signed and Scotland’s Parliament was dissolved with all decision-making moving to the Westminster Parliament in London.  The Union flag was introduced as the British flag although the nations of the United Kingdom retained their own national flags.  The Scottish flag is called the Saltire and features a white diagonal cross (the St Andrew’s cross) on a blue background.

In the 20th century, there emerged strong demands for more decisions to be taken in Scotland and, eventually, in 1998 the Scotland Bill was passed by the British Parliament.  In 1999 the first elections took place and in July 1999 the Queen, as Head of State, came to Edinburgh to officially open the new Scottish Parliament.


The Parliament Building

After some discussion it was decided that a new building should be commissioned and an architectural competition was held to choose a suitable design.  The winning design was by Enric Miralles, a Catalan architect from Barcelona, with a design concept of “a parliament sitting in the landscape”.  During the construction period, the Scottish Parliament met in the General Assembly building of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Finally the Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and their staff moved into the new building in 2004.


How Parliament Works

Scotland now has devolved government and makes most of the decisions relating to domestic matters eg Health, Education, Law, Sport, Tourism, Transport etc.  However a number of matters eg the constitution, foreign affairs, defence, social security, pensions, issues of medical ethics, and fiscal, economic and monetary policy still remain with the Westminster Government.  Scottish voters are therefore represented in both Parliaments.  For Scotland they elect 129 MSPs and for their British representation they elect 59 MPs.

Elections in Scotland normally take place every 4 years unless they conflict with other elections when a 5 year period is adopted.  Every Scottish voter has two votes.  One is for the local constituency and this is a straight “first past the post” system with the person elected getting the most votes.  The other vote is for the larger region in which their constituency is located.  Here a system of proportional representation operates.  Voters cast a vote for their preferred political party.  Each party has a list of candidates in an order of preference.  When the votes are counted each party is allocated a number of seats in relation to the percentage of votes cast for their party.  These MSPs are taken from the party lists.


The Present Situation

The parties at present represented in the Scottish Parliament are as follows:

Scottish National Party (SNP)                           64

Scottish Labour                                                  38

Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party     15

Scottish Liberal Democrats                               5

Scottish Green Party                                          2

Independent                                                        3

No party affiliation                                              1

TOTAL                                                                 128


(One member died, an independent, whose seat will remain vacant until the next parliamentary election in 2016. The person with no party affiliation is the Presiding Officer who chairs the Parliament meetings.)

The SNP has a majority government in the Scottish Parliament where the First Minister is Nicola Sturgeon. Because of the majority government, the SNP was able to introduce a referendum on its main policy – independence for Scotland.  This took place in September 2014 and was defeated by 55% to 45%.

However, in the 2015 General Election, for the UK parliament, the SNP gained 56 of the 59 Scottish seats and are presently the 3rd largest party in the Westminster Parliament which has a majority Conservative government.