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Local government in Scotland is organised through 32 unitary authorities designated as councils which consist of councillors elected every five years by registered voters in each of the council areas.
Councils receive the majority of their funding from the Scottish Government, through aggregate external finance (AEF). AEF consists of three parts: Revenue support grants, non-domestic rates, and income and specific grants. The level of central government support for each authority is determined by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, currently Kate Forbes MSP, and is distributed by the Finance and Central Services Department of the Scottish Government. Councils obtain additional income through the Council Tax, that the council itself sets.
Scottish councils co-operate through, and are represented collectively by, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).
The history of Scottish local government mainly surrounds involves the counties of Scotland. The counties have their origins in the sheriffdoms or shires over which a sheriff (a contraction of shire reeve) exercised jurisdiction.
Malcolm III appears to have introduced sheriffs as part of a policy of replacing native "Celtic" forms of government with Anglo Saxon and French feudal structures. This was continued by his sons Edgar, Alexander I and in particular David I. David completed the division of the country into sheriffdoms by the conversion of existing thanedoms.
From the seventeenth century the shires started to be used for local administration apart from judicial functions. In 1667 Commissioners of Supply were appointed in each sheriffdom to collect the land tax. The commissioners eventually assumed other duties in the county. In 1858, police forces were established in each county under the Police (Scotland) Act 1857.
As a result of the dual system of local government, burghs (of which there were various types) often had a high degree of autonomy.
Between 1890 and 1975 local government in Scotland was organised with county councils (including four counties of cities) and various lower-level units. Between 1890 and 1929, there were parish councils and town councils, but with the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929, the functions of parish councils were passed to larger district councils and a distinction was made between large burghs (i.e. those with a population of 20,000 or more) and small burghs. This system was further refined by the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947.
Effective from 1975, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 passed by the Conservative government of Edward Heath introduced a system of two-tier local government in Scotland (see Local government areas of Scotland 1973 to 1996), divided between large regional councils and smaller district councils. The only exceptions to this were the three island councils, Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney which had the combined powers of regions and districts. The Conservative government of John Major (1990–1997) decided to abolish this system and merge their powers into new unitary authorities. The new councils vary wildly in size – some are the same as counties, such as Clackmannanshire, some are the same as former districts, such as Inverclyde, and some are the same as the former regions, such as Highland. The changes took effect in 1996 with shadow councillors elected in 1995 to oversee the smooth transition of control.
In 2007, council elections moved to the single transferable vote system, with wards represented by either three or four councillors. The transition has resulted in no uncontested seats and has ended single-party controlled councils.
- Council Tax
- Non-domestic rates collection
- Maintenance of all roads and pavements (except trunk roads which are the responsibility of Transport Scotland)
- Primary and secondary schooling
- The Planning System, and Section 75
- Bus stops
- Supporting non-commercial bus services
- Provides some Community Transport
- Care of the elderly,
- Protection of vulnerable children and adults
- Refuse collection and disposal
- Licensing of hours of sale for alcohol
- Licensing of cultural music parades
- Licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles
- Licensing of window cleaners, market traders, scrap metal merchants, and street hawkers
- Licensing of sexual entertainment venues
- Food Hygiene inspections
- Regulation of landlords
- Arm's Length Council leisure centres and swimming baths
- Public parks
- Administering the Scottish Welfare Fund
- West Dunbartonshire
- East Dunbartonshire
- East Renfrewshire
- North Lanarkshire
- West Lothian
- East Lothian
- Na h-Eileanan Siar
- Argyll and Bute
- Perth and Kinross
- North Ayrshire
- East Ayrshire
- South Ayrshire
- Dumfries and Galloway
- South Lanarkshire
- Scottish Borders
Governance and administration
The power vested in local authorities is administered by elected councillors. There are currently 1,227 councillors, each paid a part-time salary for the undertaking of their duties. In total, there are 32 unitary authorities, the largest being the City of Glasgow with more than 600,000 inhabitants, the smallest, Orkney, with just over 20,000 people living there (population of 21,670 in 2015).
Councillors are subject to a Code of Conduct instituted by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 and enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland. If a person believes that a councillor has broken the code of conduct they make a complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (CESPLS). The Commissioner makes a determination on whether there is a need for an investigation, and then whether or not to refer the matter to the Standards Commission.
Each council elects a convener from among the members of the council to chair meetings and to act as a figurehead for the area. A council may also elect a depute convener, though this is not required. In the four city councils in Scotland – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee – the convener is called a Lord Provost, whilst in other councils the council may choose another title for their conveners. Most councils use the term 'provost'.
The office of provost or convener is roughly equivalent to that of a mayor in other parts of the United Kingdom. Traditionally these roles are ceremonial and have no significant administrative functions. Lord provosts in the four city councils have the additional duty of acting as Lord Lieutenant for their respective city.
Leader of the Council
The Leader of the Council is elected as the leader of the largest political grouping of councillors. The Leader of the Council has no executive or administrative powers designated by statute, but the position is salaried. There is also a Depute Leader of the Council appointed.
Each political group within the council typically appoints a leader, with the largest grouping's leader becoming 'Leader of the Council', and being the central figure of de facto political authority.
Officers of a council are administrative, non-political staff of the council. Generally the composition of the council's officers are a matter for the council, but there are a number of statutory officers whose roles are defined by the central government.
The most significant of these officers is the Head of Paid Service, usually titled the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive is similar in function to a city manager, though certain councillors have executive authority and there is no clear division of powers.
There is also a statutory Monitoring Officer, who usually heads the Legal Services division of the council, as well as a Chief Financial Officer.
2017 election results
Following boundary changes:
|Party||First-preference votes||Councils||+/-||2012 seats||2017 seats||Seat change|
|Seats won||Notional||Seats won||Seat %||vs Notional|
|Scottish National Party||610,454||32.3%||0.0||0||1||425||438||431||35.1%||7|
|No Overall Control||—||—||—||29||4||—||—||—||—||—|
Note: There were boundary changes in many of these councils. Notional seats and seat change are based on a notional 2012 result calculated by the BBC. The methodology was officially revealed on 9 May 2017. The relevant explanation is available on the BBC Website. Comparisons with the actual results from 2012 are inconsistent, as the number of seats and seat changes will be different because of an increase in council seats across the country from 1,223 to 1,227 and the different boundaries.
|Party||2012 seats||2012 notional|
|Scottish National Party||425||438|
Political control may be held by minority governments (min), coalitions (co), joint leadership arrangements (j.l.) or partnership working arrangements (p.w.).
|Aberdeen||NOC||CON+ALAB[s 1]+IND co||URL||45||19||9||9[s 1]||3||4|
|Aberdeenshire||NOC||CON+LD+IND co||URL||70||19||18||1||13||1||19||1||East Garioch (LD) - TBC|
|Argyll & Bute||NOC||CON+LD+IND co||URL||36||11||10||5||10|
|Dumfries & Galloway||NOC||LAB+SNP co||URL||43||10||16||9||1||7|
|East Ayrshire||NOC||SNP min||URL||32||14||6||9||3|
|East Dunbartonshire||NOC||LD+CON co||URL||22||7||6||2||6||1|
|East Lothian||NOC||LAB min||URL||22||6||7||9|
|East Renfrewshire||NOC||SNP+LAB co||URL||18||5||5||4||1||3|
|Na h-Eileanan Siar||IND||IND||URL||31||7||1||23|
|North Ayrshire||NOC||LAB min||URL||33||10||7||11||5|
|North Lanarkshire||NOC||LAB min||URL||77||28||8||31||10|
|Perth & Kinross||NOC||CON+LD+IND co||URL||40||13||18||1||5||3|
|Renfrewshire||NOC||SNP min||URL||43||19||8||13||1||1||Paisley Southeast (Ind) - Vacant, due to Councillor being disqualified for 14 months|
|Scottish Borders||NOC||CON+IND co||URL||34||8||15||2||9|
|South Ayrshire||NOC||SNP+LAB+IND p.w.||URL||28||9||12||5||2|
|South Lanarkshire||NOC||SNP min||URL||64||25||12||17||3||7|
|West Lothian||NOC||LAB min||URL||33||13||7||12||1|
- 9 Aberdeen Labour (Councillors suspended by Labour from party for their coalition with Conservatives).
2012 election results
The 32 unitary authorities were controlled as follows. The figures incorporate the results from the 2012 local government election, plus gains and losses from subsequent local by-elections, and party defections.
|Council area||Political control ||Lab||SNP||LD||Con||Grn||Ind/Oth||Total|
|City of Aberdeen||Lab-Con-Ind||17||16||5||2||0||3||43|
|Argyll and Bute||Ind-LD-Con||1||8||4||3||0||20||36|
|Dumfries and Galloway||Lab-Ind (minority)||13||9||1||9||0||15||47|
|City of Dundee||SNP||10||16||1||1||0||1||29|
|City of Edinburgh||Lab-SNP||21||17||2||11||5||2||58|
|Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Outer Hebrides)||Ind||2||4||0||0||0||25||31|
|City of Glasgow||Lab||40||30||1||1||4||2||78|
|North Ayrshire||Lab (minority)||12||11||0||1||0||6||30|
|North Lanarkshire||Lab (minority)||31||22||0||0||0||17||70|
|Perth and Kinross||SNP (minority)||4||18||5||11||0||3||41|
|West Lothian||Lab (minority)||16||15||0||1||0||1||32|
2007 election results
Following the introduction of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 local elections are held using the single transferable vote, with this taking place for the first time in 2007. This change in voting system saw all but five councils end up with no one party in control. Labour retained control of the City of Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, while Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan Siar continue to be controlled by Independent councillors.
The 32 unitary authorities are controlled as follows. The figures incorporate the results from the 2007 local government election, plus gains and losses from subsequent local by-elections, and party defections.
|Council area||Political control ||Lab||SNP||LD||Con||Grn||Oth||Total|
|City of Aberdeen||LD-SNP||10||13||15||4||0||1||43|
|Argyll and Bute||Oth-LD-Con||0||10||8||3||0||15||36|
|Dumfries and Galloway||Con-LD (minority)||14||10||3||18||0||2||47|
|City of Dundee||SNP (minority)||8||14||2||3||0||2||29|
|East Ayrshire||SNP (minority)||14||14||0||3||0||1||32|
|East Dunbartonshire||Con-Lab (minority)||6||8||3||5||0||2||24|
|City of Edinburgh||LD-SNP||15||12||17||11||3||0||58|
|Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Outer Hebrides)||Ind||2||4||0||0||0||25||31|
|City of Glasgow||Lab||46||22||5||1||5||0||79|
|North Ayrshire||Lab (minority)||12||8||2||3||0||5||30|
|Perth and Kinross||SNP-LD||3||18||8||12||0||0||41|
|South Ayrshire||Con (minority)||9||8||0||12||0||1||30|
Community councils represent the interests of local people. Local authorities have a statutory duty to consult community councils on planning, development and other issues directly affecting that local community. However, the community council has no direct say in the delivery of services. In many areas they do not function at all, but some work very effectively at improving their local area. Elections for community councils are determined by the local authority but the law does state that candidates cannot stand on a party-political ticket.
- 2022 Scottish local elections
- List of political parties in Scotland
- Subdivisions of Scotland
- Local government in England
- Local government in Northern Ireland
- Local government in Wales
- Business rates in Scotland
- Local income tax
- Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
- Scottish Housing Regulator
- Social care in Scotland
- List of Scottish council areas by population
Notes and references
- In this context the phrase is descriptive, not prescriptive; "unitary authority" does not have the specific legal meaning that it has in England.
- s.2 Local Government (Scotland) Act 1994.
- Local Government Overview Report 2009 (Exhibit 1, Page 7), Audit Scotland.
- Core Revenue Funding, Scottish Executive website, accessed 28 April 2007.
- John of Fordun wrote that Malcolm II introduced the shire to Scotland and also the thane class. Shires are certainly mentioned in charters by the reign of King Malcolm III, for instance that to the Church of Dunfermline, AD 1070–1093.
- Wallace, James (1890). The Sheriffdom of Clackmannan. A sketch of its history with a list of its sheriffs and excerpts from the records of court compiled from public documents and other authorities with preparatory notes on the office of Sheriff in Scotland, his powers and duties. Edinburgh: James Thin. pp. 7–19.
- The earliest sheriffdom south of the Forth which we know of for certain is Haddingtonshire, which is named in a charters of 1139 as "Hadintunschira" (Charter by King David to the church of St. Andrews of the church of St. Mary at Haddington) and of 1141 as "Hadintunshire" (Charter by King David granting Clerchetune to the church of St. Mary of Haddington). In 1150 a charter refers to Stirlingshire ("Striuelinschire"). (Charter by King David granting the church of Clackmannan, etc., to the Abbey of Stirling.)
- The sheriffdoms listed were Edinburgh (i.e. Midlothian), Hadingtoun (i.e. East Lothian), Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Lanerk, Dumfreize, "the sherifdome of Wigtoun and stewartrie of Kirkcudbright", Air, Dumbartan, Bute, Renfrew, Striviling (i.e. Stirlingshire), Linlithgow (i.e. West Lothian), Perth, Kincairdine, Aberdene, Inverness and Ross, Nairne, Cromarty, Argyle, Fyfe and Kinross, Forfar (i.e. Angus), Bamf (i.e. Banff), Sutherland, Caithnes, Elgine (i.e. Moray), Orkney and Zetland (i.e. Shetland), Clakmannan. "Act of the convention of estates of the kingdome of Scotland etc. for ane new and voluntar offer to his majestie of seventie two thousand pounds monethlie for the space of twelve moneths". Records of the Parliaments of Scotland. University of St Andrews. 23 January 1667. Retrieved 23 July 2010.
- Adopting the Single Transferable Votefor local elections in England Briefing of the Electoral Reform Society on the website electoral-reform.org.uk, May 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- Davidson, Jenni (14 September 2016). "Council ward boundaries to be changed across Scotland". Holyrood. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
- Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 Overview on the website legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- Renting your property out - Your responsibilities Overview on mygov.scot, 15 July 2020. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
- "Orkney Islands Council Area - Demographic Factsheet" (PDF). National Records of Scotland. September 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
- Ethical Standards in Public Life framework: "Ethical Standards in Public Life". The Scottish Government. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
- Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland "Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland". Retrieved 15 March 2015.
- s.4, Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.
- "The Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 (Remuneration) Regulations 2007". www.oqps.gov.uk.
- http://www.gov.scot/library/documents3/ethic-07.htm[permanent dead link]
- "BBC News :: Full Scottish council election results published". BBC News. 8 May 2017.
- "Scotland Results". BBC News.
- "How the BBC calculates local election results". 9 May 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
- "Political control | COSLA". www.cosla.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "Councils". 24 January 2020.
- http://www.opencouncildata.co.uk/councils.php?model=S&y=0[bare URL]
- "Economic growth and education priorities in Argyll | Press and Journal". Press and Journal. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "Cooperation and collaboration on the agenda at Clacks Council". Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "Protests as new Lib Dem/Tory coalition takes control at East Dunbartonshire Council". Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Gordon, Rebecca. "Leaders sign coalition agreement to run the Capital". www.edinburgh.gov.uk. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "SNP minority takes control of Falkirk Council". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "Fife Council agree to SNP and Labour joint partnership". Dunfermline Press. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- Glasgow Young Scot, 20 Trongate (18 May 2017). "Councillor Eva Bolander chosen as Glasgow's Lord Provost". Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/controversial-paisley-councillor-disqualified-14-24041563[bare URL]
- "COSLA". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)