History of Scottish devolution

History of Scottish devolution

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The decision of the Parliament of Scotland to ratify the Treaty of Union in 1707 was not unanimous and from that time, individuals and organizations have advocated the return of a Scottish Parliament. Some have argued for devolution - a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom - whereas others have advocated complete independence. The people of Scotland first got the opportunity to vote in a referendum on proposals for devolution in 1979 and though a majority of those voting voted 'Yes', the referendum legislation also required 40% of the electorate to vote 'Yes' for the plans to be enacted. A second referendum opportunity in 1997, this time on a strong proposal, resulted in an overwhelming 'Yes' victory, leading to the Scotland Act 1998 being passed and the Scottish Parliament being established in 1999. Since then, additional powers have been devolved, and the Calman Commission is considering whether additional powers should be transferred.


1707 to 1999

Having agreed to pass the Union with England Act, the Parliament of Scotland 'adjourned' on 25 March 1707. The new united Kingdom of Great Britain[1][2] came into being on May 1, 1707, with a single parliament of Great Britain which in effect was the Parliament of England with the addition of Scottish representation. The post of Secretary of State for Scotland existed after 1707 until the Jacobite rising of 1745. Thereafter, responsibility for Scotland lay primarily with the office of the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, usually exercised by the Lord Advocate. The Secretaries of State were reorganized in 1782 and the duties now came under the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Administrative devolution (1885)

1885 saw the creation of the Scottish Office and the post of Secretary for Scotland. From 1892 the Secretary for Scotland sat in cabinet, but the position was not officially recognized as a full member of the cabinet of the United Kingdom until the Secretary for Scotland post was upgraded to full Secretary of State rank as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.

Scottish Covenant Association (1940s and 1950s)

The Scottish Covenant Association was a non-partisan political organization that sought the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly. It was formed by John MacCormick who had left the Scottish National Party in 1942 when they decided to support all-out independence for Scotland rather than devolution as had been their position.

The Association was responsible for the creation of the Scottish Covenant, which gathered two million signatures in support of devolution. Members of the organization were also responsible the removal of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950 that attracted huge publicity for the cause of Scottish home rule.

Kilbrandon Report (1973)

1979 devolution referendum

The Scottish referendum of 1979 was a post-legislative referendum to decide whether there was sufficient support for the Scotland Act 1978 that was to create a deliberative assembly for Scotland. The Act required that for the Act not to be repealed at least 40% of the electorate would have to vote Yes in the referendum. The referendum resulted in a narrow Yes majority but fell short of the 40% requirement.

1997 devolution referendum

The Scottish devolution referendum of 1997 was a pre-legislative referendum over whether there was support for the creation of a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom and whether there was support for such a parliament to have tax varying powers. In response to the clear majority voting for both proposals, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Scotland Act 1998, creating the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive.

The Scotland Act 1998

The Act was introduced by the Labour government in 1998 after the 1997 referendum. It created the Scottish Parliament, setting out how Members of the Scottish Parliament are to be elected,[3] making some provision about the internal operation of the Parliament [4] (although many issues are left for the Parliament itself to regulate) and setting out the process for the Parliament to consider and pass Bills which become Acts of the Scottish Parliament once they receive Royal Assent.[5] The Act specifically asserts the continued power of the UK Parliament to legislate in respect of Scotland.[6]

The Act devolves all powers except over matter it specifies as reserved matters.[7] It further designates a list of statutes which are not amenable to amendment or repeal by the Parliament[8] which includes the Human Rights Act 1998 and many provisions of the Scotland Act itself. Even when acting within its legislative competence, the Act further constrains the powers of the Parliament by inhibiting it from acting in a manner incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights or European Community law.[9] The same constraints apply to acts of the Scottish Executive.[10]

Scottish Parliament established, May 1999

The new Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood designed by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles and opened in October 2004.

The Scottish Parliament met for the first time on the 12th May, 1999 and began with the words "the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened".[11]

Opening of new Scottish Parliament building (2004)

Construction of the Scottish Parliament building began in June 1999 and the first debate in the new building was held on Tuesday, September 7, 2004. The formal opening by the Queen took place on October 9, 2004.[12] Enric Miralles, the Catalan architect who designed the building, died before its completion.[13]

From 1999 until the opening of the new building in 2004, committee rooms and the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament were housed in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland located on The Mound in Edinburgh.[14] Office and administrative accommodation in support of the Parliament were provided in buildings leased from the City of Edinburgh Council.[14] The new Scottish Parliament Building brought together these different elements into one purpose built parliamentary complex, housing 129 MSPs and more than 1,000 staff and civil servants.[15]

The building aims to conceive a poetic union between the Scottish landscape, its people, its culture and the city of Edinburgh, an approach that won the parliament building numerous awards including the 2005 Stirling Prize, and it has been described as "a tour de force of arts and crafts and quality without parallel in the last 100 years of British architecture".[16][17]

Powers over Scottish railways transferred (2005)

As a result of provisions in the Railways Bill, powers were transferred from the Department of Transport to the Scottish Executive, a move described by then First Minister, Jack McConnell as "...the most significant devolution of new powers to Scottish ministers since 1999."[18]

Scottish Executive becomes Scottish Government (2007)

A Scottish Executive was created under section 44 of the Scotland Act 1998.[19] Following the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish Executive was rebranded as the Scottish Government by the new Scottish National Party administration.[20] Although the legal name has not been altered, the new terminology has been generally adopted by the opposition political parties[21][22][23] and the media.

Calman Commission (2007)

The Calman Commission was established by a motion passed by the Scottish Parliament on 6 December 2007.[24] Its terms of reference are: "To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom."[25] However, concerns have been expressed that its final report will not have "much legitimacy" because it was skewed towards preserving the status quo.[26]

Powers transferred over planning and nature conservation matters at sea (2008)

During 2008, agreement was reached to transfer responsibility for all planning and nature conservation matters at sea up to 200 miles from the Scottish coast to the Scottish Government. The change has implications for the offshore industry, wind and wave power and to a lesser extent, fishing, though responsibility for fishing quotas remains an European Union issue and oil and gas licensing and permitting remains a reserved matter.[27]

Referendum Bill 2010

In August 2009 the SNP announced a Referendum Bill would be included in its package of bills to be debated before Parliament in 2009-10, with the intention of holding a referendum on the issues of Scottish independence in November 2010. The bill was not however expected to pass due the SNP's status as a minority administration, and due to the initial opposition to the Bill from all other major parties in the Scottish Parliament. [28][29]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Welcome parliament.uk, accessed 7 October 2008
  2. ^ Act of Union 1707, Article 2.
  3. ^ Sections 1 to 18.
  4. ^ Sections 19 to 27, 39 to 43.
  5. ^ Sections 28 to 36.
  6. ^ Section 28(7).
  7. ^ Schedule 5.
  8. ^ Schedule 4
  9. ^ Section 29(2)(d).
  10. ^ Section 57(2).
  11. ^ Scottish Parliament 12 May 1999 scottish.parliament.uk, accessed 30 November 2008
  12. ^ "Opening of Holyrood". Scottish Parliament. http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/nmCentre/events/holyroodOpening/index.htm. Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  13. ^ "Scots Parliament architect dies". BBC Scotland News (BBC). 2000-07-03. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/817635.stm. Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  14. ^ a b "Scotland's Parliament to start life in General Assembly Hall". Scottish Office. 1998-03-20. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/news/releas98/pr0564.htm. Retrieved 2006-10-27. 
  15. ^ Catherine Slessor (November 2004). "Scotland the brave: operatic in both conception and execution, Scotland's long awaited new parliament will help a fledgling institution to mature and evolve". Architecture Review. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3575/is_1293_216/ai_n8641942/pg_1. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  16. ^ Charles Jencks (January 2005). "Identity parade: Miralles and the Scottish parliament: On the architectural territories of the EMBT/RMJM parliament building". Architecture Today no.154 p.32–44. http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/Articles/view.php?id=23084. Retrieved 2007-01-07. [dead link]
  17. ^ Senay Boztas (2005-01-23). "Holyrood is 'without parallel' in 100 years of architecture". Sunday Herald. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20050123/ai_n9628505. Retrieved 2007-01-10. 
  18. ^ Executive in £325m rail takeover BBC News, 18 January 2005
  19. ^ Section 44 of the Scotland Act 1998 retrieved from the Statute Law Database
  20. ^ Scottish Executive renames itself, BBC News, 3 September 2007.
  21. ^ Government must protect ferry routes scotlibdems.org.uk, 9 September 2008
  22. ^ David Mundell at Conference scottishconservatives.com, accessed 29 October 2008
  23. ^ SNP's CARBON TARGETS - NOTHING BUT HOT AIR scottishlabour.org.uk, accessed 29 October 2008
  24. ^ The Scottish Parliament - Official Report
  25. ^ holyrood.com - The Business of Politics - Pro union devolution review launched
  26. ^ Calman evidence 'was tampered with' Scotland on Sunday, 30 November 2008
  27. ^ Scotland handed sea planning role BBC News, 27 November 2008
  28. ^ "Referendum Bill". Official website, About > Programme for Government > 2009-10 > Summaries of Bills > Referendum Bill. Scottish Government. 2009-09-02. Archived from the original on 2009-09-10. http://www.webcitation.org/5jggEjHoR. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 
  29. ^ MacLeod, Angus (2009-09-03). "Salmond to push ahead with referendum Bill". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 2009-09-10. http://www.webcitation.org/5jgoTKBiL. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 

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