Scottish Parliament

When the Labour Party gained power in 1997 one of their manifesto promises was a referendum on a devolved Scottish parliament. The referendum was held on the 11th of September 1997 and the two propositions that a Scottish parliament should be created and that it should have certain tax varying powers were passed by a clear majority. Just over 60% of the Scottish people turned out to vote, over 74% voted in favour of establishing the parliament and over 63% voted for tax varying powers. Following this result the Scotland Act passed through parliament and became law in November 1998.

The first elections for the new parliament were held on the 6th May 1999 and the parliament met for the first time on the 12th May. The parliament was officially opened by the Queen on the 1st July 1999 and received its full legislative powers. While the new purpose built parliament building was being constructed the newly elected MSP's met in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland about halfway down the Royal Mile.

The newly built parliament building came into use in September 2004 after a delay of three years and at a total cost of around £414 million. Designed by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles the design and construction of the new building was highly controversial and provoked much debate in Scotland. The parliament can be found at the bottom of the Royal Mile beside Holyrood Palace with the Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat providing a dramatic backdrop.

There are 131 seats in the debating chamber, although 2 of them are reserved for the unelected Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland. The parliament has limited powers; most notably they can only alter income tax by 3 pence in the pound and all foreign policy remains under the control of the UK parliament at Westminster, as do a number of domestic issues such as abortion, drug policy, broadcasting policy, energy policy, social security and the civil service. The parliament does however have the ability to pass laws pertaining to education, health, agriculture and justice.

In May 2007 the Scottish National Party won 47 seats making them the largest party with 1 seat more than Labour. However they were unable to negotiate a coalition with any of the other parties and have been faced with the difficult task of governing as a minority administration. The First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, has promised another referendum, this time offering full independence for Scotland and it is scheduled to be held in 2010.

The Scottish Parliament is open to the public and is free to enter. You can watch debates if you book free tickets in advance and there is a shop and a cafe.

Official website of the Scottish Parliament

Debating chamber of Scottish Parliament Scottish Parliament Scottish Parliament Public Entrance