Devolution in Scotland

Scotland has two governments – each has power and responsibility over different things.  Devolution has made a real difference to the lives of people in Scotland since the Scottish Parliament was established, and recognises the wishes of the people to have more say over matters that affect them. This page outlines how the UK and Scottish governments work together for the people of Scotland.

Being part of the UK continues to see Scotland benefit from pooling and sharing resources, including having the rest of the UK as a major domestic trading partner and the ability to weather unexpected economic shocks as one of the world’s major economies. The Barnett formula also ensures steady and secure funding for the Scottish Government.

What is devolution?

Devolution puts power closer to the citizen so local factors are better recognised in decision-making.  Thanks to devolution, Scotland has two governments which are responsible for different areas. Devolution has not stood still – there have been major additions of new powers for the Scottish Parliament since 1999.  This has included the Scottish Parliament becoming more accountable for the revenue it raises to spend on providing public services.

What powers are devolved?

The table below shows matters which are devolved and reserved, and what the Scottish Government and UK Government are each responsible for:

Devolved matters: Scottish Government Reserved matters: UK Government
Agricultural, forestry and fisheries Macroeconomic and fiscal issues
Education and training Foreign policy and international relations
Environment The Constitution
Health and social services Defence and National Security
Housing Employment
Land use planning Equal opportunities
Law and order Broadcasting
Local government Immigration
Sport and the arts Trade and industry, including international trade
Some forms of taxation Many aspects of benefits and social security
Many aspects of transport Financial services and pensions

The two governments work together on many issues and cooperate to make sure that the devolution settlement is well managed – supported by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The history of devolution

In September 1997, there was a referendum in Scotland in which people voted for devolution.

The UK Parliament then passed the Scotland Act 1998 which established the Scottish Parliament, which opened in 1999, and transferred some of the powers previously held at Westminster.

The Scottish Government cannot make laws in reserved areas and there has been a convention that the UK Parliament will not legislate in devolved areas without the consent of Holyrood.

Devolution has not stood still since 1999, with a number of changes and additions to the Scottish Parliament’s powers. These have included:

  • The Scotland Act 2016, which devolved further powers to Scotland including significant areas of income tax and welfare.
  • The Scotland Act 2012, which provided the largest transfer of financial powers from Westminster since the creation of the UK.

How is the Scottish Government funded?

The Scottish Government is responsible for managing its own expenditure and is accountable to the Scottish Parliament.  The devolution settlement means that expenditure on public services in Scotland is higher than the UK average.  The Scottish Government has around £30 billion to spend a year.  This comes from a combination of taxes and revenues devolved to Scotland as well as the Block Grant.  The video below explains this further and you can find out more on the Scottish Government website.

More information

Read more about the Scotland Act 2016 - external link
Read more about the Scotland Act 2012 - external link
Read more about the Scotland Act 1998 - external link

Find out more about life in Scotland.

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