Scotland - Government and Politics

Government and Politics

Scotland's head of state is the monarch of the United Kingdom, currently Queen Elizabeth II (since 1952). The title Elizabeth II caused controversy around the time of the queen's coronation, as there had never been an Elizabeth I in Scotland. A legal case, MacCormick v. Lord Advocate (1953 SC 396), was taken to contest the right of the Queen to title herself Elizabeth II within Scotland, arguing that to do so would be a breach of Article 1 of the Treaty of Union.

The Lord Advocate won the case and it was decided that future British monarchs would be numbered according to either their English or Scottish predecessors, whichever number is higher. Hence, any future King James would be styled James VIII (since the last Scottish King James was James VII (also James II of England, etc.)) while the next King Henry would be King Henry IX throughout the UK despite the fact that there have been no Scottish kings of the name.

Scotland has partial self-government within the United Kingdom as well as representation in the UK Parliament. Executive and legislative powers have been devolved to, respectively, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh. The United Kingdom Parliament retains power over a set list of areas explicitly specified in the Scotland Act 1998 as reserved matters, including, for example, levels of UK taxes, social security, defence, international relations and broadcasting.

The Scottish Parliament has legislative authority for all other areas relating to Scotland, as well as limited power to vary income tax. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a BBC Scotland interview, indicated that the Scottish Parliament could be given more tax-raising powers.

The Scottish Parliament can give legislative consent over devolved matters back to Westminster by passing a Legislative Consent Motion if United Kingdom-wide legislation is considered to be more appropriate for a certain issue. The programmes of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament have seen a divergence in the provision of public services compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. For instance, the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free at point of use in Scotland, while fees are paid in the rest of the UK. Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in enclosed public places.

The Scottish Parliament is a unicameral legislature comprising 129 Members, 73 of whom represent individual constituencies and are elected on a first past the post system; 56 are elected in eight different electoral regions by the additional member system, serving for a four year period. The Queen appoints one Member of the Scottish Parliament, (MSP), on the nomination of the Parliament, to be First Minister. Other Ministers are also appointed by the First Minister and serve at his/her discretion, together they make up the Scottish Government, the executive arm of government.

In the 2011 election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) formed a majority government after winning 69 of the 129 seat Parliament; This was the first majority government since the modern post-devolutionary Scottish Parliament was established in 1999. The leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, continued as First Minister. The Labour Party continued as the largest opposition party, with the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party also represented in the Parliament. Margo MacDonald is the only independent MSP sitting in Parliament. The next Scottish Parliament general election will be held on 5 May 2016. The Scotland Bill, put forward by the Calman Commission and cleared by the UK House of Commons, proposes devolving more power to Scotland. The bill has yet to be put into legislation. The Scottish National Party, who did not take part in the consultation, believe the bill does not devolve enough powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland is represented in the British House of Commons by 59 MPs elected from territory-based Scottish constituencies. The Scotland Office represents the UK government in Scotland on reserved matters and represents Scottish interests within the UK government. The Scotland office is led by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, the current incumbent being Michael Moore.

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