Subdivisions of Scotland

Subdivisions of Scotland

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For local government purposes, Scotland is divided into 32 areas designated as "council areas" which are all governed by unitary authorities[1] designated as "councils". They have the option under the Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997[2] of being known (but not re-designated) as a "comhairle" when opting for a Gaelic name; only Na h-Eileanan Siar has chosen this option whereas the Highland Council (Comhairle na Gaidhealtachd) has adopted its Gaelic form alongside its English equivalent informally.

The council areas have been in existence since 1 April 1996, under the provisions of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.

Other administrative bodies (some of which are described below) still follow boundaries derived from older local government arrangements.


History of the subdivisions of Scotland

From 16 May 1975 to 1996 the local government divisions of Scotland consisted of an upper tier of regions each containing a lower tier of districts except for the single-tier island council areas.

Before then there existed counties, counties of cities, large burghs and small burghs, these being introduced since 1889. Before 1889 administration was on a burgh and parish basis.

Traditionally burghs have been the key unit of the local government of Scotland, being highly autonomous entities, with rights to representation in the old Parliament of Scotland. Even after the Acts of Union 1707, burghs continued to be the principal subdivision.

Council areas

Scotland Administrative Map 2009.png
(sq miles)
(per km²)
Aberdeen City 70 182 212,125 1164
Aberdeenshire 2439 6317 226,871 36
Angus 843 2184 108,400 50
Argyll and Bute 2712 7023 91,306 13
Clackmannanshire 61 158 48,077 304
Dumfries and Galloway 2489 6446 147,765 23
Dundee City 21 55 145,663 2648
East Ayrshire 492 1275 120,235 94
East Dunbartonshire 68 176 108,243 617
East Lothian 257 666 90,088 135
East Renfrewshire 65 168 89,311 532
City of Edinburgh 100 260 448,624 1725
Falkirk 113 293 145,191 496
Fife 517 1340 349,429 261
Glasgow City 68 175 577,869 3307
Highland 10,085 26,119 208,914 8
Inverclyde 64 167 84,203 503
Midlothian 135 350 80,941 231
Moray 864 2237 86,940 39
North Ayrshire 343 888 135,817 153
North Lanarkshire 184 476 321,067 674
Perth and Kinross 2083 5395 134,949 25
Renfrewshire 102 263 172,867 659
Scottish Borders 1825 4727 106,764 23
South Ayrshire 475 1230 112,097 93
South Lanarkshire 686 1778 302,216 170
Stirling 866 2243 86,212 38
West Dunbartonshire 68 176 93,378 531
West Lothian 165 427 158,714 372
TOTAL MAINLAND 28,260 73,193 4,994,276 68
Na h-Eileanan Siar 1185 3070 26,502 9
Orkney Islands 396 1025 19,245 19
Shetland Islands 568 1471 21,988 15
TOTAL ISLANDS 2149 5566 67,735 12
TOTAL SCOTLAND 30,409 78,759 5,062,011 64

Other subdivisions

Scotland has several other administrative divisions, some of which are handled by joint boards of the councils.

Police and fire services

Police and fire service areas date from the era (1975 to 1996) of regions and districts and island council areas. In both cases there are current (2011) intentions announced by the Scottish Government to reduce the overall number of separate services.

Services Original area (former regions) Council areas
Central Scotland Police
Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service
Central Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Dumfries and Galloway Fire and Rescue Service
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Fife Constabulary
Fife Fire and Rescue Service
Fife Fife
Grampian Police
Grampian Fire and Rescue Service
Grampian Aberdeenshire, the City of Aberdeen and Moray
Lothian and Borders Police
Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service
Lothians and the Scottish Borders The City of Edinburgh, East Lothian,
Scottish Borders, Midlothian and West Lothian
Northern Constabulary
Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service
Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles Highland, Orkney, Shetland
and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)
Strathclyde Police
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue
Strathclyde Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire,
East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire,
City of Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire,
North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire,
South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire
and West Dunbartonshire
Tayside Police
Tayside Fire and Rescue Service
Tayside Angus, the City of Dundee and Perth & Kinross

Electoral and valuation

There are several joint boards for electoral registration and the purposes of property valuation for assessing council tax and rates.[3]

Joint board area Council areas
Ayrshire and Arran in other contexts
East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire
Borders Scottish Borders
Central Scotland Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Dunbartonshire and Argyll & Bute East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute
Fife Fife
Grampian Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray
Glasgow Glasgow
Highlands and Western Isles Highland and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)
Lanarkshire North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire
Lothian East Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, West Lothian
Orkney and Shetland Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands
Renfrewshire East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire
Tayside Angus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross


See also NHS Scotland

Health board area Council areas
Ayrshire and Arran East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and South Ayrshire
Borders Scottish Borders
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Fife Fife
Forth Valley
Central Scotland
in other contexts
Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling
Grampian Aberdeenshire, City of Aberdeen and Moray
Greater Glasgow and Clyde City of Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire,
Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, together with
the towns of Cambuslang and Rutherglen in South Lanarkshire
Highland Argyll and Bute and Highland
Lanarkshire North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire (excepting the towns of
Cambuslang and Rutherglen which are in the Greater Glasgow and
Clyde health board area)
Lothian City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian
Orkney Orkney Islands
Shetland Shetland Islands
Tayside Angus, City of Dundee and Perth and Kinross
Western Isles (Eileanan Siar) Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan Siar)


The Scottish Government has created seven "Regional Transport Partnerships", for establishing transport policy in the regions. They broadly follow council area groupings.

RTP area Council areas
NESTRANS Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire
TACTRAN Angus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, Stirling
HITRANS Argyll and Bute (except Helensburgh and Lomond), Highland, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney
Shetland Shetland
SEStran Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Midlothian, Fife, Scottish Borders, West Lothian
SWESTRANS Dumfries and Galloway
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport Argyll and Bute (Helensburgh and Lomond only), West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire

Land Registration

The current land registration system in Scotland divides Scotland into 33 counties[4], each coming into effect on various dates between 1981 and 2003. These areas in most cases resemble those of the pre-1975 administrative counties with Glasgow being the only current city to form a registration county.


Sheriffdoms are judicial areas. Since 1 January 1975 these have been six in number:[5]

  • Glasgow and Strathkelvin
  • Grampian, Highland and Islands
  • Lothian and Borders
  • North Strathclyde
  • South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway
  • Tayside, Central and Fife

Civil parishes

Scotland is divided into 871 civil parishes which often resemble same-named but legally different ecclesiastical parishes. Although they have had no administrative function since 1930, they still exist and are still used for statistical purposes such as the census. Many former civil parish areas also continue to form current registration districts. It should be noted that many boundary changes have occurred over the years and that an area currently derived from an old parish might no longer contain a place previously within that parish. Similarly, county boundaries (as still used for land registration) have also changed over the years such that a parish mentioned historically (generally before the 1860s) as being in one county (or sometimes two due to straddling a border) might now be in a neighbouring county and consequentially in a different succeeding council area.


The base level of sub-division in Scotland is that of communities which may elect community councils (CCs). The main role of the CCs is to channel local opinion to larger local-government bodies. Otherwise they have very limited powers. There are around 1,200 communities in Scotland. Not all communities have councils; some have joint councils.

Scottish communities are the nearest equivalent to civil parishes in England.

See also


  1. ^ With respect to Scotland the phrase "unitary authority" is merely descriptive; in the United Kingdom the phrase "unitary authority" as a designation is specific to local government areas in England.
  2. ^ Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997
  3. ^ Scottish Assessors Association
  4. ^ Registers of Scotland publication - Land Register Counties and Operational Dates
  5. ^ The Sheriffdoms Reorganisation Order 1974 S.I. 1974/2087 (S.191)

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