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The devolved government for Scotland has a range of responsibilities which include: health, education, justice and the environment. Some powers are reserved to the UK government and include: immigration, the constitution, foreign policy and defence. After a Scottish Parliamentary election, a First Minister is formally nominated by the Scottish Parliament and appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The First Minister then appoints the Scottish Ministers to make up their Cabinet with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament and the approval of the Queen.

The First Minister leads the Scottish Government, with the support of the Scottish Cabinet and Ministers. The Scottish Parliament comprises all elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and is the law making body for devolved matters. It considers proposed legislation and scrutinises the activities and policies of the Scottish Government through debates, parliamentary questions and the work of committees.

In 1707 the Act of Union abolished the separate Parliaments for Scotland and England, and created a single Parliament at Westminster in London. However Scotland retained many distinctive features, including a separate church and legal system. A form of administrative devolution for Scotland was established in 1885 when the Scottish Office was created as a Department of the UK Government, assuming responsibility for many of the issues which in England and Wales were dealt with by Whitehall Departments, such as health, education, justice, agriculture, fisheries and farming, and was headed by a UK Cabinet Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

In 1979 a Referendum was held on proposals by the then Government to establish a Scottish Assembly, but although a small majority voted in favour the proposals did not obtain the support of 40 per cent of the electorate, which had been set as a requirement before they could be implemented.

In 1989 the Scottish Constitutional Convention was established, consisting of representatives of civic Scotland and some of the political parties, to draw up a detailed blueprint for devolution including proposals for a directly elected Scottish Parliament with wide legislative powers. The SCC's Report in 1995 formed the basis of further proposals which were brought forward by the UK Government in 1997.

These proposals received overwhelming support in a Referendum on September 11, 1997, with 74 per cent voting in favour of a Scottish Parliament and 63 per cent voting for the Parliament to have powers to vary the basic rate of income tax. Following the passage of the Scotland Act 1998, the Scottish Executive (officially referred to as the Scottish Government since August 2007) and Scottish Parliament were officially convened on July 1, 1999 - a date which marks the transfer of powers in devolved matters, previously exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland and other UK Ministers, to the Scottish Ministers.

Elections to the Scottish Parliament are conducted on the basis of combining the traditional first-past-the-post system (to elect 73 constituency members) and a form of proportional representation called the Additional Member System (to elect 56 regional members - seven for each of the eight regions used in European Parliament elections).

Devolution established the Scottish Parliament with responsibility for devolved matters while the UK Parliament remains responsible for 'reserved matters' in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has full legislative competence (in other words, it can pass both primary and secondary legislation) across a wide range of devolved subjects. The Scottish Government is the devolved administration led by a First Minister, elected by the Scottish Parliament, who appoints a Cabinet of Scottish Ministers.

The 1998 Scotland Act does not set out devolved subjects but instead lists 'reserved matters' for which the UK Parliament retains responsibility. By definition, devolved matters on which the Parliament can legislate are all those which are not specifically reserved (with certain provisos set out in the Act).

Devolved issues include:

  • health
  • education and training
  • local government
  • social work
  • housing
  • planning
  • tourism, economic development and financial assistance to industry
  • some aspects of transport, including the Scottish road network, bus policy and ports and harbours
  • law and home affairs, including most aspects of criminal and civil law, the prosecution system and the courts
  • the Police and Fire services
  • the environment
  • natural and built heritage
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • sport and the arts
  • statistics, public registers and records

The UK Parliament continues to legislate for Scotland on reserved matters. There are currently 72 members in the UK Parliament representing constituencies in Scotland. It may also legislate on devolved matters in Scotland. However, in accordance with the so-called Sewel Convention, a principle has been adopted whereby "The UK Parliament will not normally legislate in relation to devolved matters in Scotland without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament".

The Scottish Parliament can agree the incorporation of legislative provisions affecting Scotland in devolved areas by what is called a 'Sewel Motion'. This enables the Scottish Parliament to agree that Westminster should legislate for Scotland on devolved matters where, for example, it is considered sensible and appropriate to put in place a single UK-wide regime or where the Parliament supports the proposed legislation but no Parliamentary time is available because of separate Scottish priorities.



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