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Empty House of Commons Chamber Opposite the Speaker's Chair

Differences from Westminster


The physical layout of parliamentary chambers in the UK varies. In the House of Commons, two sides of opposing benches face each other directly. This style is often seen as more confrontational. In the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, seats are arranged in a hemicycle (or horseshoe shape). This arrangement is sometimes seen as more symbolic of consensus.


In the House of Commons, the person who presides over the chamber is called the Speaker. In the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, this figure is called the Presiding Officer. In all of these parliaments, the presider withdraws from his/her party upon taking up the position in order to remain neutral in party politics.


The Privy Council is the body which formally advises the Queen on matters of state. At UK level, all members of the UK government are appointed to (‘sworn of’) the Privy Council. In Scotland, the First Minister of Scotland and the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament are made Privy Counsellors. In Wales, the First Minister of Wales is made a Privy Counsellor.


The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have always operated on the basis of fixed terms. This means that elections take place at regular intervals according to a timetable, instead of at the discretion of the government. In Scotland, the duration of a parliament is four years and in Wales, it is five years (though originally it was also four years).

The UK Parliament only moved to a fixed-term system in 2011, with the term set at five years. Although the last Scottish and Welsh elections were in 2011, the current term was extended an additional year to avoid clashing with the UK general election in 2015.


For elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, these groups of people can vote: UK citizens normally resident in the respective country; EU citizens resident in that country (including Irish citizens); and qualifying Commonwealth citizens resident in that country.

For general elections to the UK Parliament, these groups can vote: UK citizens; Irish citizens resident in the UK; and qualifying Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK.

EU citizens are not allowed to vote in national elections (such as to the UK Parliament). This is the case in all Member States. Although they are EU citizens, Irish citizens can vote because of agreements between the UK and Ireland, and some Maltese and Cypriot citizens can vote because they are Commonwealth citizens.

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This article is from the free online course:

Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections

The University of Edinburgh