Scottish Parliament: Making your voice heard in the Scottish Parliament (English)
Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
The Scottish Parliament is here to make a difference to your life, whatever you do and wherever you live in Scotland.
This leaflet tells you about the Scottish Parliament, what it can do for you and how you can make your voice heard.
Scottish Democracy in Action
Why should I get involved? 1
How can I get involved? 2
Who are the MSPs and what can they do for me? 3
Why contact a committee? 4
Why submit a petition? 5
How can I have my say in the running of Scotland? 6
Scottish Parliamentary Democracy at Work
The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive in action 8
How are new laws made? 9
How can I find out more? 10
Some words explained 12
Scottish Democracy in Action
Why should I get involved?
The Scottish Parliament makes laws and decisions on many issues that affect your life. The issues that it can deal with are known as devolved matters and the main ones are:
• Agriculture, forestry and fisheries
• Economic development
• Health and social services
• Law and order
• Sport and the arts
To make Scotland work for you, the Scottish Parliament needs to know your views on these issues.
Issues such as defence, employment law, genetics, immigration, international affairs, pensions and social security are known as reserved matters and are dealt with by the United Kingdom Parliament in London. The Scottish Parliament can debate reserved matters but cannot make laws on them.
How can I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved with the Scottish Parliament.
To have your say, you can:
• Vote in the Scottish Parliament elections
• Contact your elected representatives
• Contribute to the work of committees
• Submit a petition
• Join a Cross-Party Group
• Get involved in committee events
• Take part in an on-line discussion forum
• Stand as a candidate for election
To find out what’s happening in the Parliament, you can:
• Contact the Scottish Parliament Public Information Service
• Look at the Scottish Parliament website www.scottish.parliament.uk
• Visit your local Partner Library
• Attend a debate or a committee meeting
• Visit the Scottish Parliament Visitor Centre in Edinburgh
• Watch debates live on the internet at www.scottishparliamentlive.com
Who are the MSPs and what can they do for me?
MSPs are Members of the Scottish Parliament. Together they make laws and decisions on devolved matters.
Elections to the Scottish Parliament are held every 4 years. In the election people in Scotland vote for candidates, and the candidates who win become MSPs.
There are 129 MSPs, made up of 73 constituency MSPs and 56 regional MSPs. You are represented by 1 constituency MSP and 7 regional MSPs.
Even if you didn’t vote for them, your MSPs need to know what matters to you in order to help the Scottish Parliament work for you.
If you contact an MSP with your concerns they might:
• speak in a debate about an issue that you have raised
• introduce a Bill to change the law
• lodge a motion for debate in the Parliament
• ask the Scottish Executive a question about a matter that you have raised
• lodge an amendment to a Bill
• refer you on to another person or organisation
• advise you that no further action can be taken
You can arrange to meet your MSPs at the Parliament, in their local office or during their regular surgeries in your local area.
To find out who your MSPs are and how to contact them, you can look on the Scottish Parliament website, ask at your local Partner Library or contact the Public Information Service (details are on the back of this leaflet).
Why contact a committee?
Committees carry out some of the more specialised work of the Parliament and want to know your views on the subjects they discuss.
Each committee is made up of 5 to 15 MSPs. The MSPs are selected to reflect the balance of the various political parties and independent MSPs in the Parliament.
Many of the committees deal with specific devolved areas, such as the environment or health, and may question the Scottish Executive on their work and policies in those areas. Other committees look into things such as the running of the Parliament or the effect of European laws on Scotland.
Committees listen to evidence about Bills going through the Parliament or about an issue they are investigating. They also look at Bills in detail and vote on amendments to Bills.
You can write to a committee giving your point of view on an issue, an inquiry or a Bill. They might invite you to come along and speak to the committee.
Sometimes committees go on fact-finding visits to places that are relevant to their work. If you are part of a group that might be of interest to a committee, you can invite them to come and meet you.
Individuals or organisations with specialist knowledge of any of the devolved matters can register as potential advisers to the committees. Advisers help the committees with their inquiries.
There is one committee in particular that provides a great opportunity for you to get involved: the Public Petitions Committee.
Why submit a petition?
A petition is a signed statement asking the Parliament to:
• look into a matter of public interest or concern
• amend existing laws or introduce new laws
Anyone can submit a petition to the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee.
Once the Parliament has received your petition, the Public Petitions Committee will look into it and decide what to do next.
The committee might:
• invite you to come in and speak to the committee
• ask another committee or the Scottish Executive to look into your petition
• suggest that your petition is debated in the Parliament
• agree not to take any further action and advise you of this
Many petitions have resulted in action, including changes in the law.
There is a suggested format for submitting petitions and full details are available on the Parliament’s website and from the Public Information Service.
You can submit a petition in any language.
The Scottish Parliament publishes petitions on its website using a system called epetitioner. You can use e-petitioner to support and comment on the issues raised in petitions and read other people’s comments. For more information on e-petitioning, please see www.scottish.parliament.uk/e-petitions/index.htm
How can I have my say in the running of Scotland?
Get involved in a Cross-Party Group
Cross-Party Groups provide an opportunity for MSPs, individuals and external organisations to meet and discuss a shared interest or cause. Cross-Party Groups are concerned with a wide range of devolved and reserved matters, for example asthma or international development.
Hand in a petition to the Public Petitions Committee
Write to your MSPs or a committee
Attend committee events
Committee events have been held throughout Scotland to discuss issues with the general public. If you are involved in a group with an interest in a subject, the committee might invite you to an event. For example, the Education Committee talked to young people, youth workers and parents about the idea of a Commissioner for Children and Young People.
Vote in the elections
How can I have my say
Hold a demonstration
Stand for election
If you are over 21 and think you can make a difference to how Scotland is governed, you can stand for election as an MSP. You can stand as an independent individual candidate or join a political party and try to become a candidate for the party.
Take part in on-line discussions
The website hosts discussion forums on some of the latest issues being debated. You can have your say and read what other people think. Sometimes MSPs use the discussion forum to find out what people think.
Scottish Parliamentary Democracy at work
The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive in action
The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive are separate organisations and have different roles in governing Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament is a law-making body made up of all 129 MSPs. It allows the MSPs from all parties and independent MSPs the opportunity to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Executive, to make new laws, to debate issues of importance to Scotland and to raise or lower taxes. The Parliament is accountable to the people of Scotland.
The Scottish Executive is the government for devolved matters in Scotland. It makes policy on devolved matters and introduces new Bills to the Scottish Parliament. It also runs other public bodies and decides on public spending on devolved matters in Scotland. The Executive is accountable to the Parliament and to the people of Scotland.
The First Minister is the head of the Scottish Executive and is chosen by the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister then chooses the Scottish Ministers who are in charge of a devolved area. The First Minister and the Scottish Ministers are MSPs from the party which has the most MSPs in the Scottish Parliament or from a coalition of parties.
How are new laws made?
A proposal for a new law is called a Bill.
If you want to express your views on a Bill going through the Parliament, you can contact your MSPs or the committee dealing with the Bill.
Most Bills are introduced by the Scottish Executive. However, committees and individual MSPs can also introduce Bills. Members of the public can also make suggestions about new laws or changes to the law.
Bills must go through various stages before they can be passed by the Parliament and become law.
The process normally works like this:
Stage 1 The relevant committee looks into the general principles of the Bill and usually asks for evidence from interested people. The Bill is then debated by the whole Parliament. The Parliament decides whether the Bill should go on to Stage 2.
Stage 2 The Bill goes back to the relevant committee to be looked at in detail. The committee examines the Bill line by line and may make amendments to its wording.
Stage 3 The Parliament looks at the Bill again. Further amendments may be made to the text of the Bill before all MSPs debate the Bill as a whole and decide whether to pass it.
If the Bill is passed, it is sent to the Queen to receive Royal Assent. Once it has received Royal Assent, the Bill becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament and it becomes law.
Bills include sections that state when they will come into effect and how they will be put into practice if they become the law.
How can I find out more?
It is often useful to know about the Parliament and what is going on in it before you get involved or have your say. There are several ways to get more information about the Parliament or anything in this leaflet.
1. Contact the Parliament’s Public Information Service
The Public Information staff are very helpful and can answer questions or book tickets to see the Parliament or a committee in action. You can contact them by phone, email, fax or in writing; details are on the back of this leaflet.
2. Visit the Parliament website www.scottish.parliament.uk
A huge amount of information about the Parliament is available.
Some useful sections include:
• What’s happening
• About the Parliament
3. Visit your local Partner Library
There is one Partner Library in each constituency in Scotland. These are public libraries which hold information about the Parliament. All offer internet facilities, so you can access the Parliament website or email your MSP. You can find out where your nearest Partner Library is by contacting the Public Information Service, looking on the website or asking in your local library.
4. Attend a debate or a committee meeting
You can get tickets to see MSPs at work in the Debating Chamber or in committee meetings by contacting the Public Information Service.
MSPs meet in the Debating Chamber in Edinburgh to debate and vote on Bills and issues of importance to Scotland. They also have the chance to question the First Minister and Scottish Ministers.
Committees usually meet in smaller rooms in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. However, they also meet in other parts of Scotland if they are discussing issues that affect a particular place.
If you would like an interpreter to accompany you on a visit, please tell the Public Information staff at least 2 weeks before you intend to visit.
5. Come to the Scottish Parliament Visitor Centre
The Visitor Centre has excellent visual and interactive displays that allow you to explore information about the Parliament at your own pace.
The Visitor Centre is staffed by Public Enquiry Officers who can answer your questions on the Parliament and book you tickets for the Debating Chamber and committee meetings. You will find a range of useful information, including factfiles and quizzes for young visitors.
6. Watch the Parliament on the internet
If you can’t come along to the Parliament, you can watch debates and committee meetings live on the internet at www.scottishparliamentlive.com
Some words explained
Accountable: To be accountable to someone or to an organisation is to have to explain your actions to them and to be responsible for the effect of your actions.
Act: A law passed by the Scottish Parliament that has received Royal Assent.
Amendment: A change that is suggested to the wording of a Bill or motion.
Bill: A set of proposals that might become law, if the Parliament passes it.
Candidate: A person who stands for election either as a member of a political party or as an independent individual.
Coalition: A formal arrangement between more than one political party/group to form the Scottish Executive. This may happen if no single party wins more than half the total number of seats in the Parliament.
Committee: Each committee is made up of 5 to 15 MSPs. The MSPs are selected to reflect the balance of the various political parties and independent MSPs in the Parliament. Committees look at specific issues in detail.
Constituency: Scotland is divided into 73 local areas for elections; each area is known as a constituency. Each constituency elects 1 MSP, known as a constituency MSP.
Cross-Party Group: A group made up of MSPs from different parties, independent MSPs and individuals and organisations from outside the Parliament. They share an interest in a subject or issue.
Debate: A discussion that takes place between MSPs which will often lead to a vote. Debates are usually held in the Debating Chamber.
Devolution: The transfer of power from a central body to local bodies. This enables decisions to be made at a level closer to the point at which they will have an impact.
First Minister: The First Minister is the head of the Scottish Executive. He or she is an MSP chosen and nominated by the Parliament and appointed by The Queen.
Motion: A statement lodged by a member for consideration, debate and decision by the Parliament or a committee.
MSP: Member of the Scottish Parliament. The MSPs are the individuals elected to serve and represent the people of Scotland in the Scottish Parliament. There are 129 MSPs.
Public Petition: A signed statement from a person or group of people made to the Parliament asking it to do something about a particular issue or law.
Region: Scotland is divided into 8 larger areas for elections; each area is known as a region. Each region elects 7 MSPs who are known as regional MSPs.
Reserved Matters: The issues affecting Scotland that are decided by the United Kingdom Parliament in London.
Royal Assent: When a Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament, the Queen is asked for her approval. When it has been approved by her, it becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish Executive: The most successful party in an election, or a coalition of parties, forms the Executive. It is the devolved government of Scotland and consists of the Scottish Ministers and the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for Scotland. It introduces most new Bills and is responsible for important areas of public policy.
Scottish Ministers: Each Scottish Minister is in charge of a department in the Scottish Executive, for example education or justice, and may be supported by a Deputy Scottish Minister. The Scottish Ministers and Deputy Scottish Ministers are MSPs who are chosen by the First Minister.
Surgeries: Regular meetings held by MSPs in their constituency or region in a local place, such as a community hall, a library or a supermarket. You can go along to these meetings to discuss issues that concern you with your MSPs.
For more information on the Parliament or anything in this leaflet, you can visit our website at www.scottish.parliament.uk or contact the Public Information Service:
Telephone: 0131 348 5000 or 0845 278 1999 (local rate).
Calls via RNID Typetalk/TextDirect: 18001 0131 348 5000
Textphone: 0131 348 5415
Fax: 0131 348 5601
Letter: Public Information Service, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP
If you have a disability and wish to communicate with an MSP, sign language interpreters or information in different formats such as Braille can be provided, if you request these in advance. For a copy of this leaflet in languages other than English or in Braille, large print, on audio tape or in various computer formats, please contact the Public Information Service. We welcome written correspondence in any language. At present we can only accept phone calls in English and Gaelic.
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The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.
Cite this Document
Scottish Parliament: Making your voice heard in the Scottish Parliament (English). 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 10 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1059.
"Scottish Parliament: Making your voice heard in the Scottish Parliament (English)." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 10 December 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1059.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Scottish Parliament: Making your voice heard in the Scottish Parliament (English)," accessed 10 December 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1059.
If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2023. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk.