Politics of Scotland

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Scotland is one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK has no single written constitution document. Until the 1707 Acts of Union Scotland was an independent nation state. However, upon these acts coming into effect both Scotland and England's parliaments were dissolved and reconstituted as a parliament for all of Great Britain using the former English parliament's buildings and executive institutions. The Scottish and English crowns were unified in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. In 1801 the Kingdom of Great Britain was unified with Ireland.

Until 1999 Scotland had no Scottish specific legislature, although various attempts were made to secure some form of Home Rule over the years.

The Scottish Parliament

Main article: 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 the Scottish people voted 75% in favour of its establishment.

The Parliament was then created by the Scotland Act 1998 of the Westminster Parliament. This act sets out the powers devolved to Scotland, including health, education, local government, Scots Law amongst others. Powers still held at Westminster (referred to as "reserved" powers) include Defence, International Relations, Fiscal and Economic Policy, Drugs Law and Broadcasting, to name but a few.

The Parliament is elected with a Proportional Representation electoral system, namely, the Additional Members System. This is unlike Westminster which is still elected by the First Past the Post method. It is elected every four years and contains 129 members (referred to as MSPs).

This has resulted in the election of a number of canididates from parties that could not have reasonably expected to get any representation otherwise.

To replace the Scottish Office, the former UK government department who fought in Scotland's corner, a devolved administration called the Scottish Executive 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

Presiding Officers

See also

Scotland at Westminster

The House of Commons

Missing image
The effect of the 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 reprentation in the House of Commons to 59 MPs from the 2005 General Election. This 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 less necessary.

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

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 Alastair Darling. His department, the Scotland Office, created in 1999, liases with other Whitehall departments about devolution matters.

Current Scottish Representation in the Commons is:

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.

See also

Scotland 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

Before 1975 local government in Scotland was organised on the county system. In reforms that took effect from 1975, the Conservative government of Edward Heath introduced a system of two-tier local government in Scotland, divided between large Regional Councils and smaller District Councils. The only exceptions to this were the three Island Councils, Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney which had the combined powers of Regions and Districts. In 1995 the Conservative government of John Major decided to abolish this system and merge their powers into new Unitary Authorities, roughly equivalent to the old counties.

The power invested in these authorities is administered by elected councillors. There are currently around 1,200 in total, each paid a part-time salary for the undertaking of their duties. Each authority elects a Provost to chair meetings of the authority's council and act as a figurehead for the area. The office of Provost is roughly equivalent to that of the English Mayor. The four main cities of Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee have a Lord-Provost rather than a Provost, although their duties are essentially the same.

The councillors are elected every four years.

There are in total 32 Unitary Authorities, the largest being the City of Glasgow with more than 600,000 inhabitants, the smallest, Orkney, with less than 20,000 people living there.

Unitary Authorities

See also

Community Councils

Community Councils are relatively powerless institutions designed to represent the interests of local people. In many areas they do not function at all, but some work very effectively at trying to improve their local area.

Candidates for Community Councils cannot stand on a party-political ticket.


Until 1832 Scottish politics remained very much in the control of landowners in the country, and of small cliques of merchants in the burghs. 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 khaki election of 1900 did the Conservative Party -- known as the Unionists in Scotland -- win a majority of seats.

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

After the confused 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 Conservatives. The Scottish National Party (founded in 1934) first contested a seat in 1929, but it remained a peripheral force for many years.

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, but had little success for the next decade. The I.L.P 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 Conservatives won 35 seats each, the Liberals losing one seat.
  • 1955: The Conservatives 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 Conservatives. This marked the start of a process which in less than 40 years saw the Conservatives' Scottish representation at Westminster reduced to zero.
  • 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 a 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 Pollok by-election, but this had the effect of allowing the Conservative 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 South Ayrshire by-election. The General Election saw a small swing to the Conservatives, 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 Govan.
  • 1974: In the two general elections of 1974 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 against strong opposition, not least from its own backbenchers. Finally a referendum, whilst producing a small majority in favour of an elected assembly, failed to reach 40% of the total electorate, a target set in the legislation. In the 1979 general election the SNP fared disastrously, 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 débâcle. Labour also was riven by internal strife as the Social Democratic Party split away, and the Militant Tendency grew increasingly strong. 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%.
  • 1987: The Labour Party did well in the 1987 election, mainly at the expense of the Conservatives, 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 Govan by-election for the SNP
  • 1992: This election proved a disappointment for Labour and the SNP in Scotland. The S.N.P went from 14% to 21% of the vote but won only 3 seats. The Conservatives did correspondingly well, 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 just about held their own but the Conservatives failed to win a single seat.
  • 1999: Unlike 1979, Scottish voters delivered a decisive "Yes" vote in the referendum on establishing a Scottish Parliament.

Political Parties

The largest political party operating in Scotland is the Labour Party. They replaced the Liberals as Scotland's main political force in the early twentieth century and traditionally represent the interests of workers and trade-unionists. They currently operate as the senior partners in a coalition Scottish Executive.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) was formed in the 1930s with the aim of achieving Scottish independence. They are broadly on the left-of-centre and are in the European Social-Democratic mould. They are currently the second most popular party electorally, although their highpoint appears to have been in the 1970s.

The Conservative & Unionist Party has declined in popularity in recent years. They are the only party ever to have achieved an outright majority of Scottish votes at any general election, in 1951. 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 on the right-of-centre, but many Scots used to vote for them simply because of their unionist credentials.

The Liberal Democrats usually manage to secure decent representation in Scotland. They currently operate as junior partners in a coalition Scottish Executive.

The Scottish Green Party have had great electoral success since devolution, providing the first green parliamentarian in the UK's history, Robin Harper.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) were formed in the late 1990s and operate as the foremost political party of the far-left in Scotland today. They are particularly strong in urban Scotland, the traditional heartland of the Labour Party.

The Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party (SSCUP) were formed just in time to contest the 2003 election to the Scottish Parliament. Unsurprisingly they were formed to work for the rights of Scotland's senior citizens. More surprisingly, they managed to get one MSP elected, John Swinburne, their party founder and leader.

See also

Further Reference

External links


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