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Scottish Devolution

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Scottish Devolution

In the United Kingdom, the power and lawmaking have come from Westminster in London for a very long time. This has consistently left the countries outside of England that are part of the kingdom feeling left behind. Devolution is all about these countries’ desire to make their own laws again and not have them dictated by people who don't share their identity or interests. For almost half a century now, Scotland has been passionate in its quest to do this! Let's find out exactly what Scottish devolution is.

Scottish devolution: definition

Devolution is a term that describes the diversion of central or singular power to local and regional governments. In the UK, there are devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, which were established in 1998. This article will focus on Scottish devolution but first, it is vital to see why devolution was such a priority.

History of Scottish devolution

I look forward to the days when this Chamber will sound with debate, argument and passion. When men and women all over Scotland will meet to work together for a future built from the first principles of social justice.

-Donald Dewar, First Minister of Scotland, July 1999

In this quote, you can see the swelling pride from Donald Dewar after the devolved Scottish Parliament opened. The seeds for a devolved Scottish government, however, go centuries back. The Scottish drive for autonomy and independence is certainly not something new. To understand the history of devolution let's first look at some important terms.

TermDefinition
BillProposal or idea for a new law or changes to existing laws.
ActA bill that has been approved and written into law by Parliament.
Parliament/AssemblyAn elected committee that discusses public laws and affairs.
Parliamentary CommitteeA commission whose role is to consider new policies and evaluate existing ones.
Referendum A yes/no vote put to the electorate on a specific political question or issue.
ElectorateThe eligible people in a region or country who vote.
ConstitutionThe rulebook by which a state is governed and the rights a citizen has.
First-past-the-post votingAn election system in which the single candidate with the most votes in a voting area gets a seat in Parliament, even if they have less than 50% of the vote. The losing party gets no representation.

Overview of the Scottish devolution history

  • 1200s–1707: the original Scottish Parliament ran independently from England and Westminster.
  • 1707: theActs of Union merged the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Parliament in Westminster became the Parliament of Great Britain. As a result, Scotland's Parliament closed.
  • 1885: the Secretary of State for Scotland was re-created, but this position had little power as a member of the cabinet in the UK until 1926.
  • The post had first been created after the Acts of Union but was removed after the Scots had supported Charles Stuart in the Jacobite rising of 1745, in which he invaded England.

  • 1913: the idea of a Government of Scotland bill was supported in the UK Parliament but postponed due to the First World War.
  • 1969: Wilson's Labour government tasked the Royal Commission of Constitution to evaluate the structures of the UK. They considered some methods of devolution detailed in the Kilbrandon Report of 1973.
  • 1978: the Scotland Act was passed to establish a devolved government. A referendum on Scottish devolution took place in 1979 and received 51.6% support for devolution. However, the turnout was not significant enough so the idea was repealed.
  • 1980–87: the UK government did not consider devolution. Conservative governments favoured Scottish business and provided more administrative power to Scotland. They did not consider plans for a Scottish Parliament.
  • 1987: the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC) was formed to continue the conversation about devolution. They were unhappy with Scotland's treatment under the Conservatives.
  • 1989: the SCC proposed a ‘Claim of Right for Scotland’. This outlined the plan for a Scottish Parliament/Assembly that could make laws.
  • 1995: the SCC formalised plans for a devolved government in another paper entitled ‘Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right’.
  • 1997: a new Labour government headed by Tony Blair came to power in the UK Parliament. They arranged a second referendum whereby the Scottish public would decide if they should have their own Parliament. The first attempt at Scottish devolution failed in 1979. Would it be different this time?
  • September 1997: the public voted for Scottish devolution and the creation of an independent Parliament which would have the power to raise taxes.
  • January 1998: discussions about Scottish devolution began in Westminster Parliament.
  • November 1998: the proposal became legislation. The Scotland Act allowed Scotland to form an independent Parliament.

  • May 1999: Scottish devolved Parliament elections started.

  • July 1999: the Queen opened Scottish Parliament at the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh.

  • 2004: the new Scottish Parliament building was finished in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

Scottish Devolution Scottish Parliament building StudySmarterScottish Parliament building, Wikimedia Commons.

The Scottish devolution bill

The Scottish devolution bill refers to the 1998 Scotland Act. Let's look at some of its key points below:

  1. The Scottish Parliament would be in session by January 2000.

  2. The Parliament would have the power to create laws on a variety of issues but not all of them.

  3. The money to be spent on public services was higher than the UK average.

  4. Finances would still come from the central government in Westminster but the Scottish Parliament had the power to change tax by up to 3p. This doesn't sound like a lot but equals an overall £450 million increase or decrease per year.

  5. Scottish Members of Parliament (MSPs) would serve four-year terms. 129 MSPs would be selected: 73 constituency members by the first-past-the-post electoral method and 56 regional members via proportional representation.

  6. Scotland's representation would withdraw from Westminster.

  7. EU and Westminster lawmaking would be debated.

Scottish devolution results

Over 60% of the Scottish electorate population voted in the second devolution referendum. As we've seen, the Scottish people had voted ‘yes’ for devolution in the 1970s too but the threshold of 40% of the voting electorate was not met, so the vote was invalid. This time around they were overwhelmingly in favour of a Scottish Parliament (74.3%) and 63.5% wanted the new Parliament to have tax-raising capabilities.

So, who controls what?

Edinburgh (Devolved Matters)Westminster (Reserved Matters)
  • Health and social care services
  • UK immigration
  • Land usage
  • Constitution or rules of governance
  • Housing
  • TV and radio
  • Elections of local councils
  • Security and defence
  • Farming and fishing
  • Foreign affairs

Laws in the Scottish Parliament start with a bill. The public and the parliamentary committee consider the bill. Then, the parliamentary committee examines the bill in greater detail and suggests amendments or improvements.

Finally, more amendments are proposed in Parliament and the bill is accepted or rejected.

If a bill is accepted, a UK government officer evaluates how it fits with the Supreme Court and the European Convention of Human Rights. Finally, the Royal Assent of approval from the Queen transforms the bill into an Act of Parliament.

The media's role in Scottish devolution

BBC Scotland launched its own channel in 2019, but the broadcasting has been shown to cost more per viewer than any of the BBC's other channels, and it does not reach a large percentage of the Scottish audience. Viewing figures demonstrate that Scottish viewers still prefer their own STV channel,1 highlighting the continued disconnect between Scotland and England. The streaming service Netflix also enjoys far greater Scottish consumption than the BBC.

As well as BBC Scotland, Channel 4 has also recently opened a creative centre in Glasgow, but more than 20 years after devolution many Scots feel that independence is the only solution for their marginalisation in the UK.

This criticism is not unique to Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland and even the North of England regularly bemoan the London-centric media.

Alex Salmond vs the BBC

The First Minister of the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the time of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was Alex Salmond. During the lead up to the vote, he had several high profile arguments, notably with presenter Andrew Marr and political editor Nick Robinson.

The BBC was accused of bias in these interviews, and Salmond has since said that the bias of the BBC should have been foreseen and was a 'significant factor' in the failed referendum. He has also attacked Scottish and British media outlets, adamant that without the smear campaign against independence the result would have been very different.

Further Scottish devolution referendums

Since the 1998 Scotland Act, there have been some other referendums that have seen Scotland gain even more autonomy. Some were more successful than others.

  • 2012 Scotland Act: this gave greater freedom to Scotland to make financial decisions with the biggest delegating of power in UK history.
  • 2014 Independence Referendum: the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 between the Scottish Parliament and the UK government stated that a referendum for Scottish independence would take place. 55% of the electorate voted ‘no’ to independence.
  • 2016 Scotland Act: further devolutions to Scotland include more freedom with taxes, abortion, educational reforms, oil licensing, and welfare.

The SNP still want Scottish independence to be part of the UK-wide conversation but leader Nicola Sturgeon (below) is conscious of the implications of another failed attempt to break away and is biding her time before trying again.

Scotland's devolution has seen a resurgence in national pride and the Scottish Parliament has taken advantage of its autonomy to make its laws. The question of a yes/no referendum is perhaps too simple as Scots cannot predict what independence will mean. For now, Covid-19 has put the conversation on hold, but it isn't going away.

Scottish Devolution Nicola Sturgeon StudySmarterNicola Sturgeon, Wikimedia Commons.

Scottish Devolution - Key takeaways

  • A desire for Scottish autonomy and independence stems from being governed by Westminster for centuries.
  • The first referendum for devolution failed in the 1970s. The second referendum was successful and led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
  • Scottish decision-makers have diverted from Westminster in different aspects of their policy since devolution such as tax, social care, and education.
  • The media and the treatment of Scotland by the BBC are emblematic of the continued marginalisation of Scotland in the UK, exemplified by Alex Salmond.
  • Despite the failed 2014 Independence Referendum, the drive for Scottish independence and full autonomy remains.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scottish Devolution

Scottish devolution refers to the delegation of certain powers to Scotland and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. This allowed them to make their own laws and adjust their own taxes independent of the UK.

Devolution in government is the diversifying of power from a central structure. It provides special autonomy for certain countries or regions within the sphere of a central government.

Almost 1.8 million people voted for Scottish devolution. This equalled 74.3% of the vote. Over 60% of the electorate voted.

Scottish devolution allows the Scottish Parliament to make its own decisions about some political issues such as housing and education. With the approval of the Queen and a UK government official, the bills they propose can become acts of law. Other issues and laws for Scotland are made by the UK government like immigration and security.

The media and its continued marginalisation of Scotland, in particular through the BBC, demonstrate that devolution still leaves Scotland with a secondary status in the UK. This was evident in their treatment of Alex Salmond in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Final Scottish Devolution Quiz

Question

What is devolution?

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Answer

The handing over of some powers to a localized government from the central government.

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What are reserved powers?

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Answer

Powers held by, in this case, the UK government.

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Can a devolved government legislate on reserved matters?


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No, resolved matters must be discussed and decided on by the UK government.

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Can a devolved government be given more powers than their initial devolved powers?


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Answer

Yes, Scotland has received additional powers from the UK government on more than one occasion eg. The Scotland Acts of 2012 and 2016.

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Question

Is devolution the same as independence?


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Answer

No. Devolution does give the state a degree of independence from the central government, but does not remove them from their authority. Scotland has its own government, but is still under the control of the UK government where national issues are concerned.

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Question

What the 1997 devolution referendum the first of its kind in Scotland?


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Answer

No. In 1979, a referendum was held regarding Scottish devolution and was actually found to have had a majority yes vote. However, it did not meet the 40% requirement of the electorate to count as a vote for devolution.

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Question

In which century did Scotland originally form a government with England?

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Answer

18th century

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What do Scottish people watch more than BBC iPlayer?

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Answer

Netflix

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In which year was there a referendum for Scottish independence?

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Answer

2014

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Who was the First Minister of the devolved Scottish government?

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Answer

Donald Dewars

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How did Thatcher's government try to silence cries for Scottish independence?

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Answer

Thatcher's government favoured Scottish businesses and allowed Scotland to be more active with administration.

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Which report paper was published in 1995 by the Scottish Constitutional Convention?

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Answer

Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right

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What was Alex Salmond's biggest regret from the 2014 referendum?

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Answer

Failing to recognise the bias of the media

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What percentage of the eligible Scottish people voted in the 1998 referendum?

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Answer

60%

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Why did the first referendum in 1978 fail?

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Answer

The Scottish people voted against it.

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Which event stopped the Government of Scotland bill in 1913?

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Answer

The First World War stopped further consideration of this proposal.

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Question

Which of the following was a reserved matter in the 1998 Scotland Act?

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Answer

Foreign policy

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