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Politics of Scotland


Scotland is a country which is part of the United Kingdom (UK). As the UK is de jure a unitary state, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, located at Westminster, London is sovereign over the whole country. However since the late 1990s, a system of devolution has emerged in the UK, whereby Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have each been granted some measure of self government whilst remaining within the UK.


Scotland entered into union with England in 1707, and since then has had representation in the British parliament.

Currently, 59 Members of Parliament (MPs) represent Scottish constituencies at Westminster, and issues such as the constitution, foreign affairs, defence, social security, pensions, issues of medical ethics, and fiscal, economic and monetary policy are decided on at Westminster.

In 1999, an 129-member Scottish Parliament was established in Edinburgh, which has power to make laws over agriculture, education, environment, health, local government and justice.

In the UK government, Scottish affairs are represented by the Secretary of State for Scotland, currently Michael Moore MP, and the Scottish Government is headed by a First Minister, who is the leader of the political party with the most support in the Scottish Parliament, currently Alex Salmond MSP.

The head of state in Scotland is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II (since 1952). As the UK is part of the European Union, Scotland also elects 6 Members to sit in the European Parliament.

Scotland can best be described as having a multi-party system. In the Scottish Parliament, the centre-left pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) is the party which forms government, currently holding a clear majority of seats in the parliament (68 out of 129).

Opposition parties include the Scottish Labour Party (centre-left, social democratic), the Scottish Conservative Party (centre-right, conservative), the Scottish Liberal Democrats (centrist, social liberal), and the Scottish Green Party (centre-left, environmentalist).

Elections are held once every four years, with 73 Members being elected to represent constituencies, and the remaining 56 elected via a system of proportional representation.

At Westminster, Scotland is represented by 12 MPs in the current coalition government (11 Liberal Democrats and 1 Conservative), 41 MPs in the Opposition Labour Party, and 6 MPs for the Scottish National Party.

A prominent issue in Scotland in current times is the issue of Scottish independence, that is the creation of an independent Scotland outside the United Kingdom.

The pro-independence Scottish government have stated their wish to hold a referendum on Scottish independence at somepoint in the latter half of the current parliament (2011-16).

The SNP and the Scottish Greens will campaign in favour of independence, whereas the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties will campaign to maintain Scotland's role within the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Parliament

Although a similar measure had been rejected in 1979, the election of the Labour government in 1997 was followed by a referendum on establishing a devolved Scottish Parliament.

That September, 74.3% voters agreed with the establishment of the parliament and 63.5% agreed it should be able to adjust income taxes by up to 3%.[4][5]

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 Sir Peter Housden), is the equivalent of the Permanent Secretary of a Whitehall department.

The House of Commons

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 Michael Moore. His department, the Scotland Office, created in 1999, liaises with other Whitehall departments about devolution matters.

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 previous 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.