Labour Party, Liberal Party, National Party, politics, Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, Scotland, Scotland Act, Scottish Conservative Party, Scottish Government, Scottish Green Party, Scottish independence, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Scottish Parliament, Scottish politics, Scottish Reform Act
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
The earliest record of the Parliament of Scotland is a meeting at Edinburgh Castle in about 1140. The Scottish Parliament was merged into the Parliament of Great Britain under the Acts of Union in 1707. Politics in Scotland had always been under the control of wealthy country landowners and town-based merchants. Only a small number of people had the vote. This number rose from 5,000 to 65,000 under the Scottish Reform Act 1832 and further increased to 230,000 under the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868. Half the male population could vote by 1885.
Scottish politics were dominated by the Liberal Party from 1885 until about 1920. The Labour Party became a force around this time. The National Party emerged in 1929 and very quickly became a force, banishing the Liberals to the highlands and the islands. By 1945, Scotland had a two-party system, comprising the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party. The election of the Labour Party in 1997 paved the way for devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the 1997 referendum, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of Scottish people voted for a separate parliament.
After nearly 300 years of rule from London, the Scottish Parliament was reformed under the Scotland Act 1998 after the people of Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland) had been able to vote for limited self-government in their respective countries. There is now a system of devolution, or home rule, by the UK Parliament. The Scottish head of state remains Queen Elizabeth II. The UK government retains certain powers under the Scotland Act, such as fiscal and economic policy, social security, defense, foreign affairs, drug laws, and broadcasting. The Scottish Parliament can legislate on any area not in the Act.
The new Parliament is unicameral, with 129 members, including 73 who represent the various constituencies and 56 who are elected in one of the eight electoral regions of Scotland. Ministers, including the First Minister, are nominated by Parliament and appointed by the Queen. These ministers make up the executive arm of the Scottish Government. Elections are held every four years.
The largest political party in Scotland is the centre-left Scottish National Party, formed in 1934 to campaign for Scottish independence. Since the 2007 election, it has been the governing party, defeating the Labour Party, who had been in office since 1999. The number of seats held by the Scottish National Party increased from 46 to 69 at the 2011 election, the first time a party has had a majority in the new Scottish Parliament.
The Labour Party has 37 seats, down 7. The centre-right Scottish Conservative Party, which has lost ground since its formation in 1965, has 15 seats, down 2. The centre-left Scottish Liberal Democrats have 5, down 12. The Scottish Green Party has 2, up 1. There is also one Independent. The Greens and the Independent support Scottish independence.
Scotland has 59 of the more than 600 members of the British House of Commons. At the 2015 UK elections, the Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, up from six in 2010. Cabinet includes a Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for the powers retained after devolution. The Scottish Parliament sometimes refers devolved matters to the British Parliament for consideration of kingdom-wide legislation via a Legislative Consent Motion, or Sewel Motion. Before the Scottish Parliament was reformed, Scottish peers sat in the House of Lords.
The main debate in Scottish politics has been independence. Devolution policies have been supported by the three UK political parties at some stage. The Liberal Democrats have always supported it. The two main parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, have been opposed to it at times. Since devolution, the main issue has been whether to push for additional powers such as fiscal responsibility, or to seek full independence. Polls in 2012 and 2013 indicated only about 40 per cent of voters wanted full independence from the UK. An independence referendum was held in September 2014 where about 45 per cent voted for independence.