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A Dummies Guide to the Scottish Parliament

Our Scottish Parliament was first established way back in 1999 – before many of our younger Beyonders were even born. 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (or ‘MSPs’ as they are commonly known) are elected to pass laws and vote on issues that have been devolved since the Scotland Act 1998 was passed. These issues are known as devolved items, which include policing, criminal justice, education, health, housing, local government, planning, sport, some welfare powers and the environment. The devolved settlement has since been enhanced thanks to the Conservatives in Westminster, who have given the Scottish parliament (Holyrood, as its known) more powers in recent years.

What do our MSPs do?

When elected, MSPs can attend the main chamber to vote, speak in debates, introduce/amend bills that become law, ask the government questions and lodge motions. Much like Westminster, an MSP is elected to represent their constituencies and address their concerns.

How does our voting system work?

Many people get confused about this. So let’s make it easy:

During the devolution debate, most people wanted to make the voting system in Scotland fairer. For instance, for many years the Labour party dominated Scotland and made it harder for smaller parties to obtain seats to represent voters.

As an example, if there was a First Past the Post system, Labour would probably win 90 of the 129 seats. Most logical minds would say this is far too many. So, to make it fairer, the parliament introduced an Additional Member System; these additional members are known as List MSPs. Each voter in Scotland has two votes at each election.

73 constituencies elect one constituency MSP and are elected by a first past the post basis. The second vote is used to elect 56 additional members – bringing the total number of MSPs to 129. The additional members are elected on a proportional basis. So let’s get an example:

Scotland consists of 8 electoral regions:



South of Scotland

West of Scotland

Central Scotland

North East Scotland

Mid Scotland & Fife

Highlands & Islands

Glasgow is made up of nine constituencies – all are represented by SNP MPs. Seven additional members are then elected to represent the region as a whole – based on party vote share. For instance, the region has four Labour MSPs, two Conservative MSPs and one Green MSP.

South Scotland is made up of nine constituencies – the Conservatives won four of these in 2016. The SNP won four constituencies and Labour won only one. Seven additional members were then elected based on party vote share. The SNP elected three additional MSPs, The Conservatives two additional MSPs and Labour won two MSPs also.

Although it appears complicated, the Scottish parliament’s voting system is actually very simple and fair. The next Scottish parliament election will be held on 6th May 2021.

Matt Lomax