Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Mu Phàrlamaid na h-Alba

History of the Scottish Parliament


The path to devolution

In 1969, a Royal Commission on the Constitution was set up to look at the structures of the constitution of the United Kingdom. Various models of devolution were considered and rejected.

In the mid-1970s, the pressure for reform grew. The Labour government of the time put forward a law to create a Scottish Assembly. The Scotland Act 1978 became law on 31 July 1978.

The Act required that 40% of the Scottish electorate (not just of those who voted) had to support the Act for it to come into force.

In the referendum of 1 March 1979, the devolution scheme was supported by 52% of those voting. This amounted to only 33% of the electorate so the scheme could not go ahead. Following this, there was a vote of no confidence in the Labour government, which was defeated at a general election in May 1979. The Act was "repealed" (cancelled) in June 1979.

Read the Scotland Act 1978

Developments from 1979 to 1997

The new Conservative government of 1979 did not support devolution as set out in the 1978 Act. Instead, it:

  • devolved further powers to the administrative government of Scotland
  • allowed special treatment of Scottish business in Parliament

Many people were not satisfied with these changes and continued their campaigns for devolution or independence.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention

After the 1987 general election, people who were not satisfied with the changes united to become the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC). The SCC was made up of:

  • representatives from political parties in Scotland
  • local authorities
  • churches
  • voluntary organisations

Following its first meeting in March 1989, it published a "Claim of Right for Scotland". This was a document asking for a Scottish assembly, or parliament with law-making powers. 

Over the next few years, the SCC produced several reports based on its detailed inquiries and consultations. Its final report "Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right" was published in November 1995. The report contained proposals for a devolution arrangement. 


Referendum results

After the election on 1 May 1997, the new Labour government arranged for a referendum on its proposals. They were set out in a white paper in July 1997, "Scotland’s Parliament".

Unlike 1979, this referendum was held before the relevant devolution bill was introduced into Parliament, not after it had been enacted. This was to ensure that devolution was the expressed will of the people of Scotland and not simply a government policy. Unlike 1979, a simple majority was required to implement change.

A referendum was held on 11 September 1997, with two questions. 74.3% of those who voted on the first question backed a Scottish parliament, and 63.5% of those who voted on the second question were in favour of it having tax-varying powers. The turn-out was 60.1% on the first question and 60% on the second question.

After this result, the Scotland Bill was introduced in the UK Parliament in December 1997. It became law as the Scotland Act in November 1998.

The Secretary of State for Scotland appointed a Consultative Steering Group (CSG) in November 1997. Its members were the major political parties in Scotland and other public groups and interests. It was set up to develop proposals for how the new Parliament would operate.

The CSG produced a report in January 1999, "Shaping Scotland’s Parliament". It was used as the blueprint for the Parliament’s initial set of Standing Orders (rules of procedure for the Parliament). 

Read the Scotland Act 1998