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About the Scottish Parliament

What's the difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government?

News stories often use ‘Holyrood’ as a shorthand for the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government.

However, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are separate organisations with different remits and based in separate buildings.

This page explains the key differences between the two.

Watch this short animated guide to the key differences between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

Bidh Pàrlamaid na h-Alba ann: Riaghaltas na h-Alba

Watch BSL version of video

Read transcript of video

Image of newspaper from animation on difference between Parliament and Government

The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were both established in 1999. Their powers and duties are set out in legislation passed by the UK Parliament. This means that they can deal only with certain matters, known as devolved powers, such as:

  • health
  • education
  • justice
  • police and fire services
  • housing.

Find out more about devolved and reserved powers

What is the Scottish Parliament?

  • the Scottish Parliament is the law-making body in Scotland for devolved matters.
  • the Scottish Parliament scrutinises the work and policies of the Scottish Government.
  • it is made up of all 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
  • MSPs debate matters of importance to the people of Scotland, consider and vote on legislation and hold the Scottish Government to account.
  • each person in Scotland is represented by eight MSPs: one constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs.
  • MSPs are elected using a form of proportional representation called the Additional Member System.
  • elections to the Scottish Parliament normally take place every five years.
  • MSPs elect a Presiding Officer to chair meetings of the Parliament and represent the Parliament externally.
  • the Scottish Parliament is staffed by public servants, not civil servants. They serve the Parliament as a whole and must remain politically impartial.
  • The Scottish Parliament building (Holyrood) is located at the foot of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

What is the Scottish Government?

  • the Scottish Government is responsible for formulating and implementing policies on devolved matters in Scotland.
  • it implements laws that have been passed by the Scottish Parliament.
  • the Scottish Government is formed from the party or parties holding most seats in the Scottish Parliament.
  • the First Minister is the head of the Scottish Government.
  • the Scottish Government is made up of Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, who are chosen by the First Minister.
  • the Scottish Government introduces most of the bills that are considered by the Scottish Parliament.
  • the Scottish Government proposes how the Scottish budget is allocated through the Budget Bill, which it submits to the Scottish Parliament each year for approval.
  • Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers are supported by the Scottish Government directorates, which are staffed by civil servants.
  • Scottish Government buildings are located across Scotland. The main Scottish Government buildings are St Andrew’s House and Victoria Quay, in Edinburgh.

Find out more about the Scottish Government

Matters which have not been devolved, such as immigration and defence, are dealt with by the UK Parliament and UK Government in London.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is not a member of the Scottish Government.  They represent Scotland’s interests on matters dealt with by the UK Government. The Scotland Office is the UK Government department which supports the Secretary of State for Scotland.

How do the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government fit together?

The people of Scotland elect 129 MSPs.

The MSPs elect one MSP as First Minister.

The MSP elected as First Minister can appoint Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, but only with the approval of the Parliament.

The First Minister is the Head of the Scottish Government. They are not in charge of the Scottish Parliament.

Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers are part of two separate organisations: the Scottish Government (in their ministerial role) and the Scottish Parliament (as MSPs).
The Scottish Government is accountable to the Scottish Parliament; and both organisations are accountable to the people of Scotland.

In addition to a parliamentary or constituency office, a Cabinet Secretary or Minister will usually have an office within a Scottish Government building dealing with ministerial responsibilities. Parliamentary and constituency offices are completely separate from ministerial offices and have different contact details.

Contacting Ministers and MSPs

Ministerial offices are located in Scottish Government buildings.  Their parliamentary offices cannot deal with ministerial matters.

You can contact the Minister responsible about a devolved matter although they are unable to take on individual cases.

Contact Scottish Government Ministers

If you have an issue or concern you wish to raise, you can contact one of your MSPs. Every person in Scotland is represented by eight MSPs: one for the constituency and seven for the larger region in which they live.

Find out which MSPs represent you and their contact details

Contact Public Information for assistance