What are the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central to a regional authority.

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood can pass laws on devolved matters – in general, those affecting most aspects of day-to-day life in Scotland.

The UK Parliament at Westminster can pass laws on reserved matters – in general, those with a UK-wide or international impact.

Devolved or reserved – what’s the difference?

Devolved matters include

Reserved matters include


  • agriculture, forestry and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • law and order
  • local government
  • sport and the arts
  • tourism and economic development
  • many aspects of transport
  • benefits and social security
  • immigration
  • defence
  • foreign policy
  • employment
  • broadcasting
  • trade and industry
  • nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
  • consumer rights
  • data protection
  • the Constitution

Why do I need to know?

It is important to know whether the issue you’re interested in is devolved to the Scottish Parliament or reserved to the UK Parliament.

This will determine whether you contact one of your Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) at Holyrood or your Member of Parliament (MP) at Westminster.

Where can I find out more?

The key documents that define the powers of the Scottish Parliament are as follows:

The Scotland Act 1998 created a Scottish Parliament with powers to make laws on a range of issues. Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 lists what is reserved to the UK Parliament. If a matter is not mentioned as being reserved in this part of the Act, it is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scotland Act 2012 gives more powers to the Scottish Parliament or to Scottish Ministers, including the transfer of some significant financial powers. The Act also formally changes the name of the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government. The new powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament include:

  • a new Scottish rate of income tax to be in place from April 2016
  • new borrowing powers for the Scottish Government
  • full control of stamp duty land tax and landfill tax from April 2015
  • the power to introduce new taxes, subject to agreement of the UK Government
  • the power to make laws on matters relating to air weapons
  • giving the Scottish Ministers powers relating to the misuse of drugs, the drink-drive limit, the national speed limit and the administration of elections to the Scottish Parliament

Both Acts were passed by the UK Parliament.

Further Powers

Following the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014, a process is underway to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament in areas such as taxation, welfare and elections to the Scottish Parliament.

The UK Government introduced the Scotland Bill in the UK Parliament on 28 May 2015. This bill, which sets out proposals for new powers, is the subject of discussion in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments. 

You can find out more about the proposed new powers for Scotland and the progress of discussions on the webpages of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Further Devolution Hub. The Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has produced a short guide to devolved and reserved powers and to the proposals for further powers in the Scotland Bill 2015-16.

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