Local Government in Scotland

Scotland was an independent nation until 1707 and some central government functions (including education and justice) are still devolved and run by separate departments based in Edinburgh that answer to the Secretary for Scotland (upgraded to Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926), a member of the British Parliament who has a seat in the Cabinet.

Like England and Wales, Scotland is divided into 33 counties, with elected county councils. The counties are as follows (with the county town in brackets):

  • Aberdeenshire [Aberdeen]
  • Angus (or Forfarshire) [Forfar]
  • Argyllshire [Lochgilphead]
  • Ayrshire [Ayr]
  • Banffshire [Banff]
  • Berwickshire [Duns]
  • Bute (or Buteshire) [Rothesay]
  • Caithness [Wick]
  • Clackmannanshire [Alloa]
  • Dumfriesshire [Dumfries]
  • Dunbartonshire [Dumbarton]
  • East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) [Haddington]
  • Fife (or Fifeshire) [Cupar]
  • Inverness-shire [Inverness]
  • Kincardineshire [Stonehaven]
  • Kinross-shire [Kinross]
  • Kirkcudbrightshire [Kirkcudbright]
  • Lanarkshire [Hamilton]
  • Midlothian (or Edinburghshire) [Edinburgh]
  • Moray (or Morayshire or Elginshire) [Elgin]
  • Nairnshire [Nairn]
  • Orkney [Kirkwall]
  • Peeblesshire [Peebles]
  • Perthshire [Perth]
  • Renfrewshire [Renfrew]
  • Ross and Cromarty (or Ross-shire) [Dingwall]
  • Roxburghshire [Newtown St Boswells]
  • Selkirkshire [Selkirk]
  • Stirlingshire [Stirling]
  • Sutherland [Golspie]
  • West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire) [Linlithgow]
  • Wigtownshire [Wigtown]
  • Zetland (Shetland Islands) [Lerwick]

In addition, the four largest towns in Scotland – Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow – are known as ‘counties of cities’ and have the self-governing status of a county, equivalent to a county borough in England and Wales. These are the only towns in Scotland with city status.

The counties (except for the cities) are divided into burghs and parishes, each with an elected council (known as a town council in a burgh). A burgh (pronounced the same as ‘borough’) is a Scottish town with limited self-government, more than an English metropolitan borough but less than a county borough. Parish councils have the same very limited powers that they have in England and Wales.

In 1930, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929 comes into force, changing this system radically. The county system is unchanged, but two pairs of counties receive joint county councils, with Perthshire and Ross and Cromarty run by Perth and Kinross Council [Perth] and Moray and Nairnshire by Moray and Nairn Council [Elgin]. These four counties formally remain in existence, however, and each functions as a district under the new system.

The parishes are abolished and replaced with larger ‘districts’ with increased powers similar to those in England and Wales. The burghs are also reorganised, with 21 burghs being designated ‘large burghs’ and given self-government similar to an English county borough, while the remainder are designated ‘small burghs’ and have their powers reduced to those of an English metropolitan borough. The large burghs are:

  • Airdrie
  • Arbroath
  • Ayr
  • Clydebank
  • Coatbridge
  • Dumbarton
  • Dumfries
  • Dunfermline
  • East Kilbride
  • Falkirk
  • Greenock
  • Hamilton
  • Inverness
  • Kilmarnock
  • Kirkcaldy
  • Motherwell
  • Paisley
  • Perth
  • Port Glasgow
  • Rutherglen
  • Stirling

The counties of cities are unaffected by this reorganisation.

The mayor of a Scottish burgh is known as the provost and that of a city as the lord provost. As in England and Wales, these are ceremonial posts only and not executive mayors. On formal occasions, a provost is addressed as ‘Your Worship’ and a lord provost as ‘Your Lordship’ or ‘My Lord’. Scottish councils do not have aldermen, but town councils do have a number of ‘bailies’, an office to which senior councillors are elected by the other councillors.


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