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Devolution

Scotland has two governments, the UK and Scottish governments.  Each holds power and responsibility over different things and they work together for the people of Scotland.

What is devolution?

Devolution puts power closer to the citizens to improve accountability and representation in decision making.  In 1999 the Scottish Parliament was created with power over the majority of public services in Scotland.

Devolution has not stood still – there have been major additions of new powers for the Scottish Parliament since 1999.  These have included more accountability and control over the funding it raises and spends.

What powers are devolved?

Things the UK Government are responsible for are called ‘reserved’, and things the Scottish Government are responsible for are called ‘devolved’.

Devolved matters: Scottish Government Reserved matters: UK Government
Agricultural, forestry and fisheries Broadcasting
Education and training Constitution
Environment Defence and National Security
Health, care and social services Immigration
Housing and land use planning Energy
Law and order Employment
Local government Equal opportunities
Sport, arts and tourism Foreign affairs and international relations
Some elements of social security Macroeconomic and fiscal policy
Some forms of taxation Pensions, and elements of social security
Many aspects of transport Trade, including international trade

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 many powers previously held at Westminster.

The Scottish Government cannot make laws in reserved areas and there is a convention that the UK Government will seek the consent of the Scottish Parliament when it is passing laws that could impact on devolved areas.

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 control over income tax and social security.
  • 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 Scottish Government’s funding comes from a combination of taxes and revenues devolved to Scotland as well as the Block Grant.

The Block Grant is the funding transferred to the Scottish Government from the UK Government.  It ensures there is steady and secure funding for the Scottish Government to spend on public services.  The devolution settlement means that expenditure per person on public services in Scotland is higher than the UK average.

Being part of the UK means Scotland can benefit from pooling and sharing resources with the rest of the country.  As one of the world’s major economies the UK is better placed to weather unexpected economic shocks like the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and tackle major challenges like climate change.

Read more about public spending in Scotland - external link

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 Scotland in the UK.