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Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament (Scottish Gaelic: Parlamaid na h-Alba; Scots: Scots Pairlament) is the unicameral legislature of Scotland. Located in the Holyrood area of the capital city, Edinburgh, it is frequently referred to by the metonym Holyrood.

The original Parliament of Scotland was the national legislature of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, and existed from the early 13th century until the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. As a consequence, both the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England ceased to exist, and the Parliament of Great Britain, which sat at Westminster in London was formed.

Under the terms of the Scotland Act 1978, an elected assembly would be set up in Edinburgh provided that a referendum be held on 1 March 1979, with at least 40% of the total electorate voting in favour of the proposal. The 1979 Scottish devolution referendum failed: although the vote was 51.6% in favour of a Scottish Assembly, with a turnout of 63.6%, the majority represented only 32.9% of the eligible voting population.

While the permanent building at Holyrood was being constructed, a temporary home for the Parliament was found in Edinburgh. The General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile was chosen to host the Parliament. Official photographs and television interviews were held in the courtyard adjoining the Assembly Hall, which is part of the School of Divinity of the University of Edinburgh. This building was vacated twice to allow for the meeting of the Church's General Assembly. In May 2000, the Parliament was temporarily relocated to the former Strathclyde Regional Council debating chamber in Glasgow, and to the University of Aberdeen in May 2002.

The Presiding Officer (or Deputy Presiding Officer) decides who speaks in chamber debates and the amount of time for which they are allowed to speak. Normally, the Presiding Officer tries to achieve a balance between different viewpoints and political parties when selecting members to speak. Typically, ministers or party leaders open debates, with opening speakers given between 5 and 20 minutes, and succeeding speakers allocated less time. The Presiding Officer can reduce speaking time if a large number of members wish to participate in the debate. Debate is more informal than in some parliamentary systems. Members may call each other directly by name, rather than by constituency or cabinet position, and hand clapping is allowed. Speeches to the chamber are normally delivered in English, but members may use Scots, Gaelic, or any other language with the agreement of the Presiding Officer. The Scottish Parliament has conducted debates in the Gaelic language.

Committees comprise a small number of MSPs, with membership reflecting the balance of parties across Parliament. There are different committees with their functions set out in different ways. Mandatory Committees are committees which are set down under the Scottish Parliament's standing orders, which govern their remits and proceedings. The current Mandatory Committees in the fourth Session of the Scottish Parliament are: Public Audit; Equal Opportunities; European and External Relations; Finance; Public Petitions; Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments; and Delegated Powers and Law Reform.

Reserved matters are subjects that are outside the legislative competence of the Scotland Parliament. The Scottish Parliament is unable to legislate on such issues that are reserved to, and dealt with at, Westminster (and where Ministerial functions usually lie with UK Government ministers). These include broadcasting policy, civil service, common markets for UK goods and services, constitution, electricity, coal, oil, gas, nuclear energy, defence and national security, drug policy, employment, foreign policy and relations with Europe, welfare, reserved tax powers, most aspects of transport safety and regulation, National Lottery, protection of borders, most aspects of social security and stability of UK's fiscal, economic and monetary system.

Several procedures enable the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise the Government. The First Minister or members of the cabinet can deliver statements to Parliament upon which MSPs are invited to question. For example, at the beginning of each parliamentary year, the First Minister delivers a statement to the chamber setting out the Government's legislative programme for the forthcoming year. After the statement has been delivered, the leaders of the opposition parties and other MSPs question the First Minister on issues related to the substance of the statement.

A procedural consequence of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament is that Scottish MPs sitting in the UK House of Commons have been able to vote on domestic legislation that applies only to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland whilst English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Westminster MPs are unable to vote on the domestic legislation of the Scottish Parliament. This phenomenon is known as the West Lothian question and has led to criticism. Following the Conservative victory in the 2015 UK election, standing orders of the House of Commons were changed to give MPs representing English constituencies a new "veto" over laws only affecting England, known as English votes for English laws.