First Minister's Questions (Scottish Parliament)


First Minister's Questions (FMQs) is the name given to the weekly questioning of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament. It serves the purpose of holding the Scottish Government to account and the format has evolved over time. First Minister's Questions follows in some of the traditions of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Other devolved administrations in the United Kingdom also have sessions for the question times of their leaders that take the same name. An independent report published in 2017 suggested further reforms.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon answering questions at a session of FMQs, 2021

Procedure and format


There are rules and procedures about who can submit a question. The Presiding Officer selects questions from all of those lodged by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).[1]

History


In 2000, during the 1st Scottish Parliament, the procedures committee recommended that a specific First Minister’s Question Time be set up, to last for up to twenty minutes out of the hour set aside for the questioning of Ministers.[2] There were lively encounters between the First Minister, Donald Dewar and the then Leader of the Opposition, Alex Salmond. The Parliament's first Presiding Officer Sir David Steel had reservations about the format, describing it as "something of a caricature of Prime Minister’s Question Time”.[3]

While First Minister, Jack McConnell expressed views about seeing changes to how the Scottish Parliament functioned.[4] In May 2003, at the beginning of the 2nd Scottish Parliament, McConnell wrote to Presiding Officer George Reid, to ask for various changes in how business was conducted in the Scottish Parliament. He requested a shake-up of FMQs, including the session being held earlier in the day as school parties visiting Parliament often had to leave before the end of the session.[5][6] He also wished for FMQs to run for longer and allowing back-benchers to be given more time to ask supplementary questions. He sought for the leaders of the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party to be allocated to ask questions every two weeks, after their parties made electoral gains.[5] In a written response, Reid proposed extending the length of FMQs from twenty to thirty minutes.[6] In January 2004, FMQs was moved to midday, from a 3.10pm slot. The BBC reported an initial fall in viewing figures following the move.[7] The numbers of questions asked varied, with some leaders speaking at length, which left few opportunities for back-bench politicians to ask questions.[8]

In May 2011, as the 4th Scottish Parliament got underway, Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick announced changes to give backbench MSPs more involvement.[9] This quickly resulted in the shortest exchange at FMQs between the First Minister and the Leader of the Opposition since early 2007, with eleven back-benchers asking questions or supplementaries.[10]

In May 2016, at the start of the 5th Scottish Parliament, MSPs approved a trial period where the length of the session was extended to 45 minutes.[11] The longer sessions were seen as a positive move, with the atmosphere less rushed and more opportunities being given to backbenchers.[12] In June 2017 the Commission on Parliamentary Reform reported and considered FMQs as part of this. There were recommendations around the effective use of chamber time, included ceasing the practice of using scripted diary questions from party leaders to open First Minister’s Questions (FMQs). The report suggested scrapping the requirement for selected questions to be published ahead of the session and granting the Presiding Officer the power to rule out questions "which do other than seek to genuinely scrutinise the minister".[13][14]

Previous leaders involved in First Minister's Questions

Alex Salmond was Scotland's longest-serving First Minister and appeared in this role at 215 FMQ sessions, facing ten opposition party leaders (or interim leaders) over that time.[15]

Party key Scottish National Party
Conservative
Labour
Scottish Green Party
Liberal Democrats
First Minister Leader of the Opposition Secondary Opposition Leader Tertiary Opposition Leader Years
Donald Dewar Alex Salmond David McLetchie None 1999–00
John Swinney 2000
Jim Wallace 2000
Henry McLeish 2000–01
Jim Wallace 2001
Jack McConnell 2001–04
Nicola Sturgeon 2004–05
Annabelle Goldie 2005–07
Alex Salmond Jack McConnell Nicol Stephen 2007–08
Wendy Alexander 2008
Tavish Scott 2008
Iain Gray 2008–11
Willie Rennie 2011
Ruth Davidson 2011
Johann Lamont 2011–14
Iain Gray 2014
Nicola Sturgeon
Kezia Dugdale 2014–16
Ruth Davidson Kezia Dugdale Patrick Harvie &

Alison Johnstone

2016–17
Richard Leonard 2017–19
Jackson Carlaw 2019–20
Ruth Davidson 2020–21
Anas Sarwar 2021
Douglas Ross Patrick Harvie &

Lorna Slater

2021–present

References


  1. "Parliamentary Procedure: Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament: Chapter 13: Statements and Parliamentary Questions". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  2. McLetchie, David (1 February 2000). "Evolving procedures of the parliament". The Journal. Law Society of Scotland. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  3. "Untried Jack could guide parliament into maturity". The Scotsman. 22 November 2001. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  4. "McConnell suggests moves to be accountable to Parliament". The Scotsman. 14 April 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  5. "McConnell wants longer hours for MSPs". The Scotsman. 9 May 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  6. "Parliament set to lengthen First Minister's questions". The Scotsman. 23 May 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  7. "New Question Time slot turns off viewers". The Scotsman. 10 January 2004. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  8. "David Maddox: Addressing the mess of First Minister's Questions must be the first job of Holyrood's next presiding officer". The Scotsman. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  9. Black, Andrew (25 May 2011). "First minister questions to be overhauled". BBC News. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  10. McNab, Scott (9 June 2011). "Sketch : It may take two to tango, but Salmond's latest FMQs are more of a minute waltz". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  11. "Holyrood First Minister's Questions sessions extended". BBC News. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  12. McMillan, Joyce (2 June 2016). "Big questions remain unanswered". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  13. Webster, Catriona (20 June 2017). "Report proposes sweeping reforms of Scottish Parliament". The Scotsman. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  14. "Leader comment: Holyrood overhaul long overdue". The Scotsman. 21 June 2016. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  15. Gordon, Tom (13 November 2014). "FMQs Sketch: we'll never see Salmond's like again... until the general election". The Herald. Retrieved 15 July 2017.