The Scottish Parliament was brought to life by the Scotland Act 1998 and met for the first time in 1999 marking the transfer of devolved powers from Westminster to the Scottish Ministers. Devolved powers are the areas that The Scottish Parliament can legislate on and are as follows:-
- Education and training
- Local government
- Social work
- Tourism, economic development and financial assistance to industry
- Some aspects of transport, including the Scottish road network, bus policy and ports and harbours
- Law and home affairs, including most aspects of criminal and civil law, the prosecution system and the courts
- The Police and Fire Services
- The environment
- Natural and built heritage
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- Sport and the arts
- Statistics, public registers and records
Along with these devolved areas, The Scottish Parliament also has the power to raise or lower the basic rate of income tax by up to 3%.
Although the list of devolved powers is long, there are still many areas in which The Scottish Parliament cannot legislate. These are called reserved matters and are legislated on by Westminster. The following areas are reserved:-
- Constitutional matters
- UK foreign policy, defence and national security
- Fiscal, economic and monetary System
- Immigration and nationality
- Energy: electricity, coal, gas and nuclear energy
- Common markets
- Trade and industry, including competition and customer protection
- Some aspects of transport, including railways, transport safety and regulation
- Employment legislation
- Social security
- Gambling and the National Lottery
- Data protection
- Abortion, human fertilisation and embryology, genetics, xenotransplantation and vivisection
- Equal opportunities
Although the above matters are reserved, it is still possible for the Scottish Parliament to debate them. We can see an example of this in the situation surrounding dawn raids in Scotland.
After a dawn raid on a family of failed asylum seekers attracted much media attention and public outcry, the subject was debated in The Scottish Parliament even though issues of immigration and nationality are reserved. Although it was possible for The Scottish Parliament to pass a motion condemning the treatment of children during dawn raids, in reality it was not possible for The Scottish Parliament or the First Minister to do anything more than highlight Scotland's concern.
However, it is possible for Westminster to legislate on behalf of Scotland on devolved matters using a Legislative Consent Motion, previously known as a Sewell Motion, which we will look into in more detail in the next issue on 6 November 2006.