Sewel Motions in the Scottish Parliament


Cairney P & Keating M (2004) Sewel Motions in the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Affairs, (47), pp. 115-134.

One of the most controversial aspects of Scottish parliamentary procedure since devolution has been the use of Sewel motions, whereby the Scottish Parliament agrees to Westminster legislating in devolved matters. It was originally envisaged that this procedure would be exceptional, yet in the first session forty one were passed, provoking criticism that Holyrood was dodging its responsibility, becoming a ‘copycat Parliament' and undermining the principles of devolution. Gerry Hassan (2002) makes much of the fact that the Scottish Parliament was passing almost as many Sewel motions as full Acts. The SNP have also been highly critical of the procedure on principle. They argue that more distinct Scottish solutions should be found for Scottish problems and that, even when Holyrood is adopting the same policy as Westminster, it should pass its own legislation . Academic commentators have criticized the procedure as weakening parliamentary scrutiny (Page 2002) and some lawyers and interest groups complain that the mixture of bits of Westminster and Holyrood legislation makes the statute book untidy and difficult to follow. Scottish ministers, on the other hand, have defended the practice, arguing that the opposition has exaggerated the problem and insisting on a pragmatic approach that saves parliamentary time by not duplicating legislation that is effectively identical on both sides of the border. Further, this debate shows no sign of abatement.

Scottish Affairs, Issue 47

Publication date28/02/2004
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh