How Scotland’s laws are passed


How does the Scottish parliament make decisions about Scotland? One of its most important roles is passing laws. Let us break that process down for you.

On 25 November, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the Scottish government’s plans for 2014-15. Among them were 12 new laws for Scotland including proposals on land reform and higher education.

Each law will be written following debates and discussion. The bill is a written document made up of legal statements. Once the bill is passed it becomes an ‘Act of the Scottish parliament’.

The Scotland Act 1998 can be read online as an example. It created the Scottish parliament. It has six parts which explain how the parliament functions.

There are five formal stages to passing a new government bill.

One: consultation

Before a bill is written by the government, there are discussions. Interested groups contact the government to make their points.

The outcome of these discussions is then attached to the first draft of the bill.

Two: parliamentary committee looks at the bill

Members of the Scottish parliament in the relevant committee then look at the draft bill.

For instance, the bill on land reform will be considered by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.

The committee writes a report on the bill.

Then the bill is considered for the first time in the Scottish parliament. Any member of the chamber can consider the principles of the bill.

The Scottish parliament then decides whether the bill is good enough to proceed onto the next stage or whether it requires further consideration by the committee.

Three: Scrutiny of the whole bill

Now the process gets to its later stages. The principles of the bill have been supported, but will the bill work? Are all the details covered?

The committee and the parliament now consider the whole bill document and suggest changes. ‘Amendments’ are proposed to take points out of the bill or add in new points to make the bill stronger.

Four: The final parliamentary debate

Now the bill is clearer. Further changes can be made if proposed.

Then all 129 MSPs can vote on the bill. A majority is required to pass it.

With 127 voting MSPs – excluding the presiding officer from the 128 current MSPs – 64 votes are required for a majority.

And finally…

Because the Scottish parliament remains subject to the Westminster parliament, new laws require their cooperation. Each bill can be challenged by the London secretary of state for Scotland in the four weeks following its approval.

The bill then receives ‘royal assent’ from the monarch to become a full Act of Parliament.