Scottish devolution

What powers do devolved legislatures and the UK Parliament have at the moment? And what effect would further Scottish devolution have on the United Kingdom?

Devolution: who controls what?

The 1998 Scotland Act laid out which powers should be 'reserved' by the UK Parliament and which should be 'devolved' to Scotland.

  • The Scottish Parliament can make laws on a range of matters including education, the environment, transport and health services.
  • Only the UK Parliament can make laws on issues including immigration, foreign policy, and defence.

Find out which powers are devolved

Fact: When the UK Parliament passed the Scotland Act, one power was unintentionally devolved. The power to grant permits for Scottish scientists to visit Antarctica wasn't 'reserved' by the UK Parliament. Technically, this meant it was taken over by the Scottish Parliament, even though international matters are supposed to be reserved. So, the Foreign Office hasn't had the authority to grant these permits since 1998!

The referendum - how is the UK Parliament involved?

In the Scotland Act (1998), the UK Parliament reserved control over matters that affect the status of the UK as a whole. If Scotland holds a referendum and chooses independence, then the status of the UK will change. To allow for this, the UK Parliament needed to legislate to allow Scotland the possibility of changing its status.

Viewpoints on devolution and independence

The short video interviews above, designed to spark classroom debate, give two points of view on devolution, the Scottish Parliament, and the referendum on independence.

Lord Wallace, Liberal Democrat, and Pete Wishart MP, Scottish National Party, answer these questions:

  • Is the Union still relevant today?
  • Which powers do you think should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
  • What have been the positive and negative effects of devolution in the UK?
  • What do you think of Alex Salmond's proposal to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum?


Note that the article above was produced in spring 2012 and was correct at that time. Debates about devolution have continued since.

Classroom resources

A worksheet of source materials and questions is also available to help students explore these issues.

pdf file - 348 KB