What does the Scottish Parliament do?

The Scottish Parliament represents the people of Scotland.

It has the power to make decisions and pass laws in a range of areas including:

  • economic development
  • education and training
  • the environment
  • farming, fisheries and forestry
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • law and order
  • local government
  • police and fire services
  • planning
  • sport and the arts
  • tourism

These are called devolved matters .

The UK Parliament can still make laws for Scotland but will not normally make a law on a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

Reserved matters

Areas such as defence, foreign affairs and immigration are called reserved matters . The UK Parliament is still responsible for reserved matters.

Find out more about the work of the Scottish Parliament

How is it made up?

There are 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

If you live in Scotland, you are represented by eight MSPs – one represents your Scottish Parliament constituency and the other seven all represent your region.

The Scottish government is formed from the party or parties holding the most seats in the Parliament. It is led by the First Minister and formed of a number of Scottish Ministers.

Each Minister has a specific area of work. Ministers must answer questions from other MSPs about their policies and activities.

How is it elected?

When you vote in a Scottish Parliament election, you have two votes – one to elect your constituency member and one to elect your regional member.

In the constituency ballot , you choose the candidate you want to represent your constituency.

In the regional ballot , you choose from a list of party or independent candidates to represent your region.

When is it elected?

Scottish Parliament elections normally take place every four years (those elected on 5 May 2016 will serve five years).

Who is eligible to vote?

To vote in a Scottish Parliament election you must be registered to vote in Scotland and aged 16 years or over on the day of the poll. You must also be:

  • a British or Irish citizen, or
  • a Commonwealth citizen, who has leave to remain in the UK or who does not require leave to remain in the UK, or
  • a citizen of another European Union country, or 
  • a qualifying foreign citizen, who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or who does not need such permission.

Find out more about who is eligible to vote

Last updated: 3 August 2020
Next review: 11 September 2020