Guide to Regional Parliament / Assemblies

There’s more to politics than Westminster! Since 1999, devolution has been an important part of the way the UK is run, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all being given more powers - including the creation of their own parliament or assembly. An assembly is different from a parliament as it has less law-making powers. Here’s our guide to what these institutions do, who currently runs them, and what devolved powers they have.

Scottish Parliament

What is it?

The Scottish Parliament is based at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Its role is to debate and pass laws that affect the Scottish people. It also holds the current Scottish government to account.

Who’s in charge?

There are 129 seats up for grabs in the Scottish Parliament and after the 2016 election, the SNP won 63 of them. They now rule as a minority government, needing the support of other parties to pass laws. The Conservatives have 31 seats and Labour have 24, making them the two biggest opposition parties.

What powers do they have?

The Scottish Parliament has devolved powers in a range of areas including education and training, health and social services, and housing. They also control around 70% of government spending in Scotland.

After the Scotland Act passed in 2016, they were granted additional powers, mainly in the areas of tax and welfare.

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland, takes questions from opposition parties during First Minister’s Questions.

Welsh Assembly

What is it?

The Welsh Assembly is based in Cardiff. It has two parts: the Welsh Assembly government manages its devolved areas of responsibility, and the National Assembly for Wales examines and debates the government’s work.

Who’s in charge?

There are 60 seats in the Welsh Assembly and in the 2016 election, Welsh Labour won the most seats with 29. They have formed a minority government and will need the support of smaller parties like Plaid Cymru (12 seats) and Welsh Conservatives (11 seats) to pass laws.

What powers do they have?

The Government of Wales Act 2006 gave the Welsh Assembly law-making powers in areas such as education, health and the environment. In 2011, it became able to use these powers directly without consulting Westminster.

A recent UK government budget gave the Welsh Assembly some income tax powers, meaning Welsh ministers could control £3bn of taxes a year by 2020.

The Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister, Carwyn Jones, being grilled by the leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.

Northern Irish Assembly

What is it?

The Northern Irish Assembly is based in Stormont in Belfast. Its powers are broken down into three types: transferred (those which have been granted), reserved (which may be granted in the future) and excepted (which can only be granted with UK legislation).

Who’s in charge?

There are 108 seats in the Northern Irish Assembly and power is shared between the two main voting blocs: unionists and nationalists. After the 2016 election, the DUP stayed the biggest party with 38 seats and Sinn Fein remained second-biggest with 28 seats. Both parties have agreed to combine their seats to form a government.

What powers do they have?

The Northern Irish Assembly can pass laws in areas including education, enterprise, culture and justice. Reserved powers - which may be transferred in the future - include financial markets, postal services, and the national minimum wage.

Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, gives her first speech as First Minister of Northern Ireland.