Politics of Scotland

Politics of Scotland

The Politics of Scotland forms a distinctive part of the wider politics of the United Kingdom, with Scotland one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom.

Constitutionally, the United Kingdom is "de jure" a unitary state with one sovereign parliament and government. However, under a system of devolution (or home rule) adopted in the late 1990s three of the four constituent countries within the United Kingdom--Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland-- voted for limited self-government, subject to the ability of the UK Parliament in Westminster, nominally at will, to amend, change, broaden or abolish the national governmental systems. As such the Scottish Parliament is not "de jure" sovereign. However, it is thought unlikely that any UK parliament would try to unilaterally abolish the devolved parliament and government without consultation via a referendum with the voters of the constituent country.

The head of state in Scotland is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth (since 1952).

Executive power in the United Kingdom is vested in the Queen-in-Council, while legislative power is vested in the Queen-in-Parliament (the Crown and the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster in London). Under devolution, executive and legislative powers in certain areas have been constitutionally delegated to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, at Holyrood in Edinburgh, respectively.

The United Kingdom Parliament retains active power over Scotland's taxes, social security system, the military, international relations, broadcasting, and some other areas explicitly specified in the Scotland Act 1998 as reserved matters. The Scottish Parliament has legislative authority for all other areas relating to Scotland, and has limited power to vary income tax (the so-called Tartan Tax).

The Scottish Parliament is a unicameral legislature with 129 Members, 73 of whom represent individual constituencies and are elected on a first past the post system; 56 are elected in eight different electoral regions by the additional member system. The Queen appoints one of the members of the Parliament, on the nomination of the Parliament, to be First Minister. Other Ministers are also appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Parliament and together with the First Minister they make up Scottish Government, the executive arm of government.

Current situation

The largest party is the Scottish National Party, which campaigns for Scottish independence. The current First Minister is Alex Salmond of the SNP who leads a minority government. Before the 2007 election, Jack McConnell of the Labour Party was First Minister, whose government was formed on a coalition basis with the Liberal Democrats. Other parties represented in the parliament are the Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Green Party.

Under devolution Scotland is represented by 59 MPs in the British House of Commons elected from territory-based Scottish constituencies. A Secretary of State for Scotland, who prior to devolution headed the system of government in Scotland, sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and is responsible for the limited number of powers the office retains since devolution, as well as relations with other Whitehall Ministers who have power over reserved matters. The Scottish Parliament can refer devolved matters back to Westminster to be considered as part of United Kingdom-wide legislation by passing a Legislative Consent Motion — usually referred to as a Sewel Motion. This has been done on a number of occasions where it has been seen as either more efficient, or more politically expedient to have the legislation considered by Westminster. The Scotland Office is a department of the United Kingdom government, responsible for reserved Scottish affairs. The current Secretary of State for Scotland is Des Browne who does the job part time as he is also Secretary of State for Defence. Until 1999, Scottish peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

The main political debate in Scotland tends to revolve around attitudes to the constitutional question. Under the pressure of growing support for Scottish independence a policy of devolution had been advocated by all three GB-wide parties to some degree during their history (although Labour and the Conservatives have also at times opposed it). This question dominated the Scottish political scene in the latter half of the 20th century with Labour leader John Smith describing the revival of a Scottish parliament as the "settled will of the Scottish people". [Cavanagh, Michael (2001) " [http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/aspect/docs/aspectcampaigns.htm The Campaigns for a Scottish Parliament] ". University of Strathclyde. Retrieved 12 April 2008.] Now that devolution has occurred, the main argument about Scotland's constitutional status is over whether the Scottish Parliament should accrue additional powers (for example over fiscal policy), or seek to obtain full independence. Ultimately the long term question is: should the Scottish parliament continue to be a subsidiary assembly created and potentially abolished by the constitutionally dominant and sovereign parliament of the United Kingdom (as in devolution) or should it have an independent existence as of right, with full sovereign powers (either through independence, a federal United Kingdom or a confederal arrangement)? To clarify these issues, the SNP-led Scottish Executive published "Choosing Scotland's Future", a consultation document directed to the electorate under the National Conversation exercise. The latest opinion polls show that support for Scottish independence with the Scottish people is currently at around 30%. [BBC Scotland News Online [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/6942352.stm "Call for debate on independence"] (12 August 2007) bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-08-19. As indicated by this source there have been rare occasions when such support appears to have reached a slender majority. See [http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/domestic_politics/factcheck+do+the+scots+support+independence/251043 "FactCheck: Do the Scots support independence?"] (18 January 2007) "Channel 4 News" Retrieved on 12 April 2008 or Hennessey, Patrick and Kite, Melissa (27 November 2006) [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/26/nunion26.xml "Britain wants UK break up, poll shows"] London. "The Telegraph". Retrieved on 12 April 2008 for example.]

The programmes of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament have seen the divergence in the provision of public services compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. [" [http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Dl1/Directories/DevolvedAdministrations/DG_4007267 Devolved services in Scotland] " direct.gov.uk Retrieved 12 April 2008.] While the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free at point of use in Scotland, fees are paid in the rest of the UK. Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4845260.stm Scotland begins pub smoking ban] , "BBC News Online", 26 March 2006]

The Scottish Parliament

The election of the Labour government in 1997 ensured that there would be a referendum on establishing a devolved Scottish Parliament. This was held in September, 1997 and 74% of those who voted said "Yes" to the formation of the parliament, while 60% of the electorate who voted said "Yes" to give the Scottish Parliament ability to vary taxes.

The Parliament was then created by the Scotland Act 1998 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Westminster Parliament). This act sets out the subjects still dealt at Westminster, referred to as "reserved matters", including Defence, International Relations, Fiscal and Economic Policy, Drugs Law and Broadcasting. Anything "not" mentioned as a specific reserved matter is automatically devolved to Scotland, including health, education, local government, Scots law and all other issues. This is one of the key differences between the successful Scotland Act 1998 and the failed Scotland Act 1978.The Parliament is elected with a mixture of the first past the post system and a democratic proportional representation electoral system, namely, the additional members system. Thus the Parliament is unlike the Westminster Parliament, which is still elected solely by the first past the post method. The Scottish Parliament is elected every four years and contains 129 members, referred to as Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Of the 129 MSPs, 73 are elected to represent first past the post constituencies, whilst the remaining 56 are elected by the additional member system.

The proportional representation system has resulted in the election of a number of candidates from parties that would not have been expected to get representation through the first past the post system.

To replace the Scottish Office, a devolved government called the Scottish Executive (latterly to be known as The Scottish Government) was established, with the First Minister of Scotland at its head. The secretariat of the Executive is part of the UK Civil Service and the head of the Executive, the Permanent Secretary (presently John Elvidge), is the equivalent of the Permanent Secretary of a Whitehall department.

First Ministers

* Donald Dewar (1999-2000)
* Henry McLeish (2000-2001)
* Jack McConnell (2001-2007)
* Alex Salmond (2007-present)

Presiding Officers

* David Steel (1999-2003)
* George Reid (2003-2007)
* Alex Fergusson (2007-present)

cotland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Commons

Boundary Commission's reform and the 2005 general election upon Scottish seats

Until the 2005 General Election, Scotland elected 72 MPs from 72 single-member constituencies to serve in the House of Commons. As this over-represented Scotland in relation to the other components of the UK, Clause 81 of the Scotland Act 1998 equalised the English and Scottish electoral quota. As a result, the Boundary Commission for Scotland's recommendations were adopted, reducing Scottish representation in the House of Commons to 59 MPs from the 2005 General Election. In order to facilitate this reduction in the number of MPs from Scottish constituencies, the necessary amendment to the Scotland Act 1998, was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004. The previous over-representation was widely accepted before to allow for a greater Scottish voice in the Commons, but since the establishment of a Scottish Parliament it has been felt that this is not necessary.

Scottish MPs are elected at the same time as the rest of the UK's MPs.

Scotland was historically represented in the UK government by the Secretary of State for Scotland. This post was established in the 1880s but recently it has been the topic of much speculation. Many believe that since devolution there is no need for such a role to exist. The current Secretary of State is Jim Murphy. His department, the Scotland Office, created in 1999, liaises with other Whitehall departments about devolution matters.

Current Scottish Representation in the Commons is:

* Labour Party: 38
* Liberal Democrats: 12
* Scottish National Party: 7

* Conservative and Unionist Party: 1
* The Speaker of UK Parliament: 1

The House of Lords

At one stage, Scottish peers were entitled to elect sixteen representative peers to the House of Lords. In 1963, the Peerage Act was passed, allowing every Scottish peer to sit in the House of Lords. However, since the current Labour government's reforms of that house this is no longer the case and hereditary Scottish peers have to stand for election from amongst all eligible peers to sit in the house as part of a group of 92 entitled to do so.

cotland in Europe

Scotland constitutes a single European Parliament constituency. See Scotland (European Parliament constituency).

It is also represented in the Committee of the Regions.

Local government

Local government in Scotland is organised into 32 unitary authorities. Each local authority is governed by a council consisting of elected councillors, who are elected every four years by registered voters in each of the council areas.

Scottish councils co-operate through, and are represented collectively by, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

There are currently 1,222 councillors in total, each paid a part-time salary for the undertaking of their duties. Each authority elects a Convener or Provost to chair meetings of the authority's council and act as a figurehead for the area. The four main cities of Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee have a Lord Provost who is also, "ex officio", Lord Lieutenant for that city.

There are in total 32 councils, the largest being the City of Glasgow with more than 600,000 inhabitants, the smallest, Orkney, with fewer than 20,000 people. See Subdivisions of Scotland for a list of the council areas.

Community councils

Community councils represent the interests of local people. Local authorities have a statutory duty to consult community councils on planning, development and other issues directly affecting that local community. However, the community council has no direct say in the delivery of services. In many areas they do not function at all, but some work very effectively at improving their local areaFact|date=February 2007.

Elections for Community Councils are determined by the local authority and the law states that candidates cannot stand on a party-political ticketFact|date=February 2007.


Until 1832 Scottish politics remained very much in the control of landowners in the country, and of small cliques of merchants in the burghs. Agitation against this position through the Friends of the People Society in the 1790s met with Lord Braxfield's explicit repression on behalf of the landed interests. [cite book | author=Buchan, James | title=Crowded with Genius | publisher=Harper Collins | year=2003|isbn=0060558881|pages=338] The Scottish Reform Act 1832 rearranged the constituencies and increased the electorate from under 5,000 to 65,000. [cite book | author=Lynch, Michael | title=Scotland: A New History | publisher=Pimlico | year=1992|isbn=0712698930|pages=391] The Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868 extended the electorate to 232,000 but with "residential qualifications peculiar to Scotland". [Lynch (1992), p416] However by 1885 around 50% of the male population had the vote, the secret ballot had become established, and the modern political era had started.

From 1885 to 1918 the Liberal Party almost totally dominated Scottish politics. Only in the general election of 1955 did the Unionist Party, together with their National Liberal and Liberal Unionist allies, win a majority of votes.

In general, the Unionists achieved their best results in the Glasgow area, due to the Orange vote.

After the coupon election of 1918, 1922 saw the emergence of the Labour Party as a major force. Red Clydeside elected a number of Labour MPs. A communist gained election for Motherwell in 1924, but in essence the 1920s saw a 3-way fight between Labour, the Liberals and the Unionists. The National Party of Scotland first contested a seat in 1929. It merged with the centre-right Scottish Party in 1934 to form the Scottish National Party, but the SNP remained a peripheral force until the watershed Hamilton by-election of 1967.

The Communists won West Fife in 1935 and again in 1945 (Willie Gallacher) and several Glasgow Labour MPs joined the Independent Labour Party in the 1930s, often heavily defeating the official Labour candidates.

The National Government won the vast majority of Scottish seats in 1931 and 1935: the Liberal Party, banished to the Highlands and Islands, no longer functioned as a significant force in central Scotland.

In 1945, the SNP saw its first MP (Robert McIntyre) elected at the Motherwell by-election, but had little success during the following decade. The ILP members rejoined the Labour Party, and Scotland now had in effect a two-party system.

* 1950: The Liberals won 2 seats - Jo Grimond winning Orkney and Shetland.
* 1951: Labour and the Unionists won 35 seats each, the Liberals losing one seat.
* 1955: The Unionists won a majority of both seats and votes. The SNP managed to finish second in Perth and Kinross.
* 1959: In contrast to England, Scotland swung to Labour, which scored 4 gains at the expense of the Unionists. This marked the start of a process which in less than 40 years saw the Unionists' Scottish representation at Westminster reduced to zero. This was the last occasion when the Unionists won in Scotland: their merger with the Conservative Party of England and Wales in 1965, to become the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, began a long, steady decline in their support.
* 1964: A substantial swing to Labour occurred, giving them 44 of Scotland's 71 seats. The Liberals won 4 seats, all in the Highlands.
* 1965: David Steel won the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election for the Liberals.
* 1966: Labour gained 2 more seats and the Liberals made a net gain of 1. The SNP garnered over 100,000 votes and finished second in 3 seats.
* 1967: The SNP did well in the Glasgow Pollok by-election, but this had the effect of allowing the Conservative and Unionist candidate to win. However in the subsequent Hamilton by-election Winnie Ewing won a sensational victory.
* 1968: The SNP made substantial gains in local elections.
* 1970: The SNP performed poorly in local elections and in the Ayrshire South by-election. The General Election saw a small swing to the Conservative & Unionists, but Labour won a majority of seats in Scotland. The SNP made little progress in central Scotland, but took votes from the Liberals in the Highlands and in north east Scotland, and won the Western Isles.
* 1971-1973: The SNP did well in by-elections, Margo MacDonald winning Glasgow Govan.
* 1974: In the two general elections of 1974 (in February and October) the SNP won 7 and then 11 seats, their share of the vote rising from 11% in 1970 to 22% and then 30%. With the Labour Party winning the latter election by a narrow margin the SNP appeared in a strong position.
* 1974-1979: Devolution dominated this period: the Labour government attempted to steer through devolution legislation, based on the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Commission, against strong opposition, not least from its own backbenchers. Finally a referendum, whilst producing a small majority in favour of an elected Scottish Assembly, failed to reach 40% of the total electorate, a target set in the legislation. In the 1979 general election the SNP fared poorly, falling to 17% of the vote and 2 seats. Labour did well in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom as a whole Margaret Thatcher led the Conservatives to a decisive victory.
* 1979-1983: The SNP suffered severe splits as the result of the 1979 drop in support. Labour also was riven by internal strife as the Social Democratic Party split away. Despite this, the 1983 election still saw Labour remain the majority party in Scotland, with a smaller swing to the Conservatives than in England. The SNP's vote declined further, to 11%, although it managed to win 2 seats.
* 1987: The Labour Party did well in the 1987 election, mainly at the expense of the Conservative & Unionists, who were reduced to their smallest number of Scottish seats since before World War I. The SNP made a small but significant advance.
* 1988: Jim Sillars won the Glasgow Govan by-election for the SNP.
* 1992: This election proved a disappointment for Labour and the SNP in Scotland. The SNP went from 14% to 21% of the vote but won only 3 seats. The Conservative and Unionist vote did not collapse, as had been widely predicted, leading to claims that their resolutely anti-devolution stance had paid dividends.
* 1997: In common with England, a Labour landslide occurred in Scotland. The SNP doubled their number of MPs to 6, but the Conservative & Unionists failed to win a single seat. Unlike 1979, Scottish voters delivered a decisive "Yes" vote in the referendum on establishing a Scottish Parliament.
* 1999: The Scottish Parliament is established. A coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats led by Donald Dewar take power.
* 2007: The SNP become Scotland's largest party in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary election.
* 2008: John Mason won the Glasgow East by-election for the SNP.

Political Parties

The current party forming the Scottish Government is the Scottish National Party (SNP), with a one-seat lead over the Opposition Scottish Labour Party. The SNP was formed in 1934 with the aim of achieving Scottish independence. They are broadly centre-left and are in the European social-democratic mould. They are the largest party in the Scottish Parliament.

In the course of the twentieth century, the Labour Party gradually rose to prominence as Scotland's main political force. The party was established to represent the interests of workers and trade unionists. From 1999 to 2007, they operated as the senior partners in a coalition Scottish Executive.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats were the junior partners in the 1999 to 2007 coalition Scottish Executive. In the 2005 Westminster election they became the second strongest party (in terms of seats and votes) in Scotland. They have the third highest number of councillors, and are the joint third-strongest party in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has declined in popularity since their establishment in 1965. Their predecessor, the Unionist Party, are the only party ever to have achieved an outright majority of Scottish votes at any General Election, in 1951 (they only won a majority if the votes of their National Liberal and Liberal Unionist allies are included). However at the 1997 General Election they failed to get a single Scottish MP elected and at the following General Election they returned only one, as they did in 2005. They are a centre-right party.

The Scottish Green Party have won regional additional member seats in the Scottish Parliament, as a result of the proportional representation electoral system. They won one MSP in 1999, increased their total to seven at the 2003 election but saw this drop back to 2 at the 2007 election. The Greens support Scottish independence.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) were formed in 1998 to operate as a political party that could unite the majority of the far-left in Scotland. They won one MSP in 1999 and increased their total to six at the 2003 election. The SSP split in 2006 when two MSPs and a large number of activists left to form Solidarity. Both parties lost all their seats at the 2007 election. Both the SSP and Solidarity support Scottish independence.

The Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party (SSCUP) were formed just in time to contest the 2003 elections to the Scottish Parliament. They were formed to work for the rights of Scotland's senior citizens. Thanks to the Scottish Parliament's proportional electoral system, they managed to get one MSP elected in 2003, John Swinburne, their party founder and leader. In the 2007 election they lost their only seat.


ee also

* Elections in Scotland
* Electoral systems in Scotland
* Scottish Political Blogs
* Royal Commission on the Constitution (United Kingdom)
* Scottish media
* Scottish national identity

External links

* [http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/19980046.htm Scotland Act 1998]
* [http://www.alba.org.uk/ Scottish Politics by Alba Publishing] an archive of Scottish election results and other political data
* [http://www.holyrood.com/ Holyrood magazine] a magazine covering the Scottish Parliament and Scottish politics
* [http://www.devolution.ac.uk/ Devolution and Constitutional Change] , a research programme funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
* [http://www.scotlandvotes.com/ Scotland Votes] a Scottish election guide and swingometer
* [http://www.scottishroundup.co.uk/ Scottish Roundup] - Weekly Scottish political weblog roundup/summary
* [http://www.alba.org.uk/maps/generalmaps.html] - UK Parliament Elections 1974 - 2005

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