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Devolution in Scotland

McHarg, Aileen (2019) Devolution in Scotland. In: The Changing Constitution. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780198806363 (In Press)

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Abstract

Devolution to Scotland, in its current incarnation, is a relatively recent constitutional phenomenon. The devolved Scottish Parliament, based at Holyrood in Edinburgh, and the Scottish Government were established by the Scotland Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”), and the first elections to the Holyrood parliament, from which a government was selected, were held on 6 May 1999. It would, however, be a mistake to think that Scottish devolution only began in 1999. On the contrary, elements of a distinctive Scottish governance system have been in place ever since the Union of 1707. Although officially an “incorporating union”, in which the previously independent Scottish and English states were dissolved and merged into a new state of Great Britain, the terms of union provided certain guarantees for the smaller and weaker Scottish partner, most notably the continued existence of a separate Scottish legal system. The governance of Scotland was never wholly assimilated to that of England. During the 18th century, “the British state … was always mediated through … ‘native Scottish surrogates’” – the so-called Scottish “managers”, or the Lord Advocate, acting as adviser to the British Home Secretary. With the expansion of the functions of the state from the mid-19th century onwards, separate administrative arrangements were frequently adopted for Scotland. In 1885, the Scottish Office was created within the UK Government, headed by a “Secretary for Scotland”, later upgraded to the status of Secretary of State, and the Scottish Office continued to accrue additional functions throughout the 20th century. Distinctive institutions of local government (albeit subject to several reorganisations) have also persisted in Scotland since the Union. Institutions of intermediate government – such as the police, the National Health Service, and nationalised industries – were often separately constituted, and sometimes substantively different from equivalent institutions elsewhere in the UK. In addition, by the late 20th century, there were well-established arrangements in the Westminster Parliament for handling Scottish business.