Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 5: The Scottish Parliament and ‘New Politics’

This chapter discusses the role of the Scottish Parliament as a political actor and a hub for new forms of democracy. It outlines the functions of parliament and the role of committees. It examines the extent to which the Scottish Parliament is representative of its population. It describes initiatives, such as petitions and a civic forum, to foster participative and deliberative forms of democracy. It argues that the Scottish Parliament plays an often-minimal role in policymaking, even during periods of minority government.


Key Points

  • 5.1 The Scottish Parliament was designed to be a mix of old and new
  • 5.2 It is similar to Westminster in policymaking terms: the Scottish Government makes policy and the Scottish Parliament scrutinises
  • 5.3 It is different in key ways: there is no second chamber; its committees may have a greater legislative role; and, it has a petitions process to foster wider participation
  • 5.4 Although Scottish Parliament committees have more ‘powers’, they do not translate into a greater policymaking role than Westminster
  • 5.5 The Scottish Government tends to produce and amend most legislation
  • 5.6 Minority government had a significant but not profound effect on the government/ parliament relationship
  • 5.7 The key difference was that the SNP Government did not introduce a bill – on an independence referendum – that it knew would fail
  • 5.8 Party conflict has remained evident in the Scottish Parliament and the party whip is very strong
  • 5.9 Initiatives to increase participative and deliberative democracy – such as a civic forum and petitions process - have made a limited impact
  • 5.10 The Scottish Parliament has a greater proportion of women than Westminster but, in most other ways, it is just as unrepresentative of its population

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the extent to which the SP has become a hub for ‘new politics’
  2. To what extent do the SP’s ‘powers’ translate into policy influence?
  3. Compare the functions and practices of Holyrood and Westminster

Self-test Questions

  1. What are the functions of Parliament in a liberal democracy?
  2. Outline the proposals of the Consultative Steering Group.
  3. Is there evidence of power sharing between the Scottish Government and Parliament?
  4. What is the role of parliamentary committees?
  5. What does ‘microcosmic representation’ mean?
  6. What are ‘politics facilitating’ professions?
  7. Define (a.) participatory (b.) representative and (c.) pluralist democracy.
  8. What are ‘public petitions’?

Further Reading

Many of the examples discussed in this chapter are outlined in more detail in the ‘Scottish Parliament’ section of the Scottish Devolution Monitor Reports. These reports ran from 1999–2009 and are still archived by UCL’s Constitution Unit. Cairney (2011a) provides a systematic assessment of the reports. On the role of parliaments, see Judge (1993), Norton (2005), Rush (2005) and Flinders and Kelso (2011); for early Scottish parliamentary committees see Arter (2002, 2003, 2004). More positive evaluations of deliberative democracy in Scotland can be found in Davidson and Stark (2011) and Halpin et al. (2012). For a comparison with the other devolved territories see Birrell (2012).


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