Local government in Scotland

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Local government in Scotland comprises thirty-two local authorities, commonly referred to as councils. Each council provides public services, including education, social care, waste management, libraries and planning. [1] Councils receive the majority of their funding from the Scottish Government, but operate independently and are accountable to their local electorates. [2] Councils raise additional income via the Council Tax, a locally variable domestic property tax, and Business rates, a non-domestic property tax. [3] [4]


Councils are made up of councillors who are directly elected by the residents of the area they represent. Each council area is divided into a number of wards, and three or four councillors are elected for each ward. [1] There are currently 1,227 elected councillors in Scotland. [5] Local elections are normally held every five years and use the single transferable vote electoral system. [1] The most recent election was the 2022 Scottish local elections and the next election will be the 2027 Scottish local elections.

Council administrations typically comprise a group of councillors within the council who are able to command majority support. [6] Minority administrations and majority administrations may be formed. [7] Although coalition administrations are more typical, occasionally a majority administration is formed by a single political party, but this is uncommon due to the proportional voting system used in Scottish local elections. [7] Despite being uncommon on the Scottish mainland, it is possible for independent politicians to form an administration. [6]

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) is an umbrella organisation formed in 1975 to represent the views of Scotland's thirty-two councils to central government. [8]



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. [9] 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. [10] [11]

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. [12] 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.

Modern history

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. [13]

In 2016 there were ward boundary changes in 25 local authority areas, following the Scottish Government accepting some of the recommendations of Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. [14]

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020 have given Boundaries Scotland increased flexibility to vary the size of wards. Mainland wards may now have between 2 and 5 councillors, and single councillor wards are permitted where such a ward includes an inhabited island. [15]


Map of council areas

  1. Inverclyde
  2. Renfrewshire
  3. West Dunbartonshire
  4. East Dunbartonshire
  5. Glasgow City
  6. East Renfrewshire
  7. North Lanarkshire
  8. Falkirk
  9. West Lothian
  10. City of Edinburgh
  11. Midlothian
  12. East Lothian
  13. Clackmannanshire
  14. Fife
  15. Dundee City
  16. Angus
  17. Aberdeenshire
  18. Aberdeen City
  19. Moray
  20. Highland
  21. Na h-Eileanan Siar
  22. Argyll and Bute
  23. Perth and Kinross
  24. Stirling
  25. North Ayrshire
  26. East Ayrshire
  27. South Ayrshire
  28. Dumfries and Galloway
  29. South Lanarkshire
  30. Scottish Borders
  31. Orkney
  32. Shetland

Governance and administration

The power vested in local authorities is administered by elected councillors. There are currently 1,227 councillors, [14] each paid a part-time salary for the undertaking of their duties. In total, there are 32 unitary authorities, the largest being the Glasgow City with more than 600,000 inhabitants, the smallest, Orkney, with just over 20,000 people living there (population of 21,670 in 2015). [18]

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. [19] 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. [20]

Convener (Provost)

Each council elects a convener from among the members of the council to chair meetings and to act as a figurehead for the area. [21] A council may also elect a depute convener, though this is not required. In the four cities of 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. [21] Most councils use the term 'provost', some use the term 'convener'.

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

Since 2007 each council has been required to designate a "leader of the council" and a "civic head", who receive additional remuneration for holding those roles. The regulations direct that unless a council decides otherwise the leader is the convener and the civic head is the depute convener. In practice, most authorities appoint someone other than the convener as leader of the council, such that the political leader of the council is not also presiding over the debate at council meetings. The convener or provost usually takes the civic head role. The leader of the council is usually the leader of the largest political group, or in a coalition the leader of the largest party in that coalition. The Leader of the Council has no executive or administrative powers designated by statute. [22] Prior to 2007 many authorities recognised the leader of the largest political group or coalition administration as being leader of the council, but there was no legislative basis for the role.


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. [23]

There is also a statutory Monitoring Officer, who usually heads the Legal Services division of the council, as well as a Chief Financial Officer. [23]

2022 election results

Summary of the May 2022 Scottish council election results
PartyFirst-preference votesCouncils 2017 seats 2022 seats
CountOf total (%)ChangeCountChangeCountOf total (%)CountOf total (%)Change
No overall control 27Decrease2.svg2
SNP 633,25234.1%Increase2.svg1.8%1Increase2.svg143137.0%45335.1%Increase2.svg22
Labour 403,24321.7%Increase2.svg1.6%1Increase2.svg126221.4%28123.1%Increase2.svg19
Conservative 364,82419.6%Decrease2.svg5.7%0Steady2.svg27622.5%21417.5%Decrease2.svg62
Liberal Democrats 159,8158.6%Increase2.svg1.7%0Steady2.svg675.5%877.1%Increase2.svg20
Independents 156,8158.4%Decrease2.svg2.0%3Steady2.svg16814.1%15212.2%Decrease2.svg15
Green 110,7916.0%Increase2.svg1.9%0Steady2.svg191.6%352.9%Increase2.svg16
Alba 12,3350.7%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Scottish Family 6,8570.4%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
West Dunbartonshire Community 1,4620.1%0Steady2.svg10.1%Steady2.svg
Scottish Socialist 1,0580.1%Increase2.svg0.1%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
TUSC 1,0220.1%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
British Unionist 8590.1%0Steady2.svg10.1%Increase2.svg1
Rubbish 7870.0%0Steady2.svg10.1%Steady2.svg
Independence for Scotland 7420.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Libertarian 6980.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
Freedom Alliance5550.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Volt UK 4210.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Socialist Labour 3810.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
UKIP 3720.0%Decrease2.svg0.2%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
Women's Equality 2280.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Social Democratic 2220.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%Steady2.svg
Sovereignty 1540.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Communist 1190.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Pensioner's 750.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Vanguard 740.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Workers 610.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New
Scottish Eco-Federalist 240.0%0Steady2.svg0.0%New

Council control

Last updated 10 March 2023. [24]

Aberdeen City NOCSNP-LD coalition URL
Aberdeenshire NOCCon-LD-ind. coalition URL
Angus NOCSNP-ind. coalition URL
Argyll & Bute NOCLD-Con-ind. coalition URL
Clackmannanshire NOCSNP minority URL
Dumfries & Galloway NOCCon minority URL
Dundee City SNPMajority URL
East Ayrshire NOCSNP minority URL
East Dunbartonshire NOCSNP minority URL
East Lothian NOCLab minority URL
East Renfrewshire NOCLab-ind. minority URL
City of Edinburgh NOCLab minority URL
Falkirk NOCSNP minority URL
Fife NOCLab minority URL
Glasgow City NOCSNP minority URL
Highland NOCSNP-ind. coalition URL
Inverclyde NOCLab minority URL
Midlothian NOCSNP minority URL
Moray NOCCon minority URL
Na h-Eileanan Siar IndMajority URL
North Ayrshire NOCSNP minority URL
North Lanarkshire NOCLab minority URL
Orkney Ind.Ind-Grn coalition URL
Perth & Kinross NOCSNP minority URL
Renfrewshire NOCSNP minority URL
Scottish Borders NOCCon-ind. coalition URL
Shetland Ind.Majority URL
South Ayrshire NOCCon minority URL
South Lanarkshire NOCLab-LD-ind. minority URL
Stirling NOCLab minority URL
West Dunbartonshire LabMajority URL
West Lothian NOCLab minority URL

2017 election results

Following boundary changes:


Summary of the 3 May 2017 Scottish council election results
PartyFirst-preference votesCouncils+/-2012 seats2017 seatsSeat change
Seats won NotionalSeats wonSeat %vs Notional
Scottish National Party 610,45432.3%Steady2.svg0.00Decrease2.svg142543843135.1%Decrease2.svg7
Conservative 478,07325.3%Increase2.svg12.0%0Steady2.svg11511227622.5%Increase2.svg164
Labour 380,95720.2%Decrease2.svg11.4%0Decrease2.svg339439526221.4%Decrease2.svg133
Independents 199,26110.5%Decrease2.svg1.3%3Steady2.svg19619817214.1%Decrease2.svg26
Liberal Democrats 128,8216.8%Increase2.svg0.2%0Steady2.svg7170675.5%Decrease2.svg3
Scottish Greens 77,6824.1%Increase2.svg1.8%0Steady2.svg1414191.6%Increase2.svg5
No Overall Control 29Increase2.svg4

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. [26] 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.


The BBC notional calculation is as follows:
Party2012 seats2012 notional
Scottish National Party 425438
Conservative 115112
Labour 394395
Liberal Democrats 7170
Scottish Greens 1414

Council control

Political control may be held by minority governments (min), coalitions (co), joint leadership arrangements (j.l.) or partnership working arrangements (p.w.). [28]

Last update 13 February 2022. [29] [24]

CouncilControlWebTotalSNPCONLABLDSGPAlbaOtherVacantUpcoming by-elections
Aberdeen City NOCCON+ALAB [s 1] +IND co URL 4519109 [s 1] 34
Aberdeenshire NOCCON+LD+IND co URL 7019201131316
Angus NOCCON+IND+LD co URL 2898110
Argyll & Bute NOCCON+LD+IND+ISP co [30] URL 361185111
Clackmannanshire NOCSNP min [31] URL 1875411
Dumfries & Galloway NOCLAB+SNP co URL 4310161016
Dundee City NOCSNP min URL 29133823
East Ayrshire NOCSNP min URL 3214693
East Dunbartonshire NOCLD+CON co [32] URL 22752611
East Lothian NOCLAB min URL 22679
East Renfrewshire NOCSNP+LAB co URL 185544
City of Edinburgh NOCSNP+LAB co [33] URL 631617116751
Falkirk NOCSNP+IND co [34] URL 3013773
Fife NOCSNP+LAB j.l. [35] URL 75291323721
Glasgow City NOCSNP min [36] URL 8535730625
Highland NOCIND+LD+LAB co URL 7419103111291
Inverclyde NOCLAB min URL 22528124
Midlothian NOCLAB min URL 18756
Moray NOCSNP min URL 2679181
Na h-Eileanan Siar INDIND URL 31611122
North Ayrshire NOCLAB min URL 3398115
North Lanarkshire NOCLAB min URL 772683139
Orkney INDIND URL 21219
Perth & Kinross NOCCON min URL 401318153
Renfrewshire NOCSNP min URL 431981312
Scottish Borders NOCCON+IND co URL 3481529
Shetland INDIND URL 22121
South Ayrshire NOCSNP+LAB+IND p.w. URL 2891252
South Lanarkshire NOCSNP min URL 6425111738
Stirling NOCSNP+LAB URL 23794111
West Dunbartonshire NOCSNP+IND URL 2292812
West Lothian NOCLAB min URL 33147111
  1. 1 2 9 Aberdeen Labour (Councillors suspended by Labour from party for their coalition with Conservatives).

2012 election results

Council control

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.

CouncilPolitical control [37] Lab SNP LD Con Grn Ind/OthTotal
Aberdeen City Lab-Con-Ind1716520343
Aberdeenshire [38] Conservative/Liberal Coalition226101611368
Angus SNP (minority)114140929
Argyll and Bute Ind-LD-Con184302036
Clackmannanshire Lab (minority)89010018
Dumfries and Galloway Lab-Ind (minority)1391901547
Dundee City SNP1016110129
East Ayrshire SNP-Con1415020132
East Dunbartonshire Lab-Con-LD98320224
East Lothian Lab-Con-Ind108030223
East Renfrewshire Lab-SNP84060220
City of Edinburgh Lab-SNP21172115258
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Outer Hebrides)Ind240002531
Falkirk Lab-Ind-Con1413020332
Fife Lab (minority)33261030678
Glasgow City Lab4030114278
Highland SNP-Lab71713004280
Inverclyde Lab (minority)96210220
Midlothian SNP-Ind (minority)88001118
Moray Ind-Con2110301026
North Ayrshire Lab (minority)1211010630
North Lanarkshire Lab (minority)31220001770
Orkney Ind000002121
Perth and Kinross SNP (minority)4185110341
Renfrewshire Lab2016110240
Scottish Borders Ind-SNP-LD086901134
Shetland Ind000002222
South Ayrshire Con-Lab990100230
South Lanarkshire Lab3821130467
Stirling Lab-Con89041022
West Dunbartonshire Lab3821130422
West Lothian Lab (minority)1615010132

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 Glasgow City and North Lanarkshire, while Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan Siar continue to be controlled by Independent councillors.

Council control

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.

CouncilPolitical control [37] Lab SNP LD Con Grn OthTotal
Aberdeen City LD-SNP10131540143
Aberdeenshire SNP228121411168
Angus Con-LD-Lab-Oth213350629
Argyll and Bute Oth-LD-Con0108301536
Clackmannanshire Lab (minority)88010118
Dumfries and Galloway Con-LD (minority)14103180247
Dundee City SNP (minority)814230229
East Ayrshire SNP (minority)1414030132
East Dunbartonshire Con-Lab (minority)68350224
East Lothian SNP-LD77620123
East Renfrewshire Lab-SNP-Oth-LD73170220
City of Edinburgh LD-SNP151217113058
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Outer Hebrides) Ind 240002531
Falkirk Lab-Oth-Con1413020332
Fife SNP-LD24232150578
Glasgow City Lab4622515079
Highland Oth-LD-Lab71821003480
Inverclyde Lab-Con-Oth95410120
Midlothian Lab (minority)96300018
Moray Oth-Con290301226
North Ayrshire Lab (minority)128230530
North Lanarkshire Lab4023110570
Orkney Oth000002121
Perth and Kinross SNP-LD3188120041
Renfrewshire SNP-LD1717420040
Scottish Borders Oth-Con-LD0610110734
Shetland Oth000002222
South Ayrshire Con (minority)980120130
South Lanarkshire Lab-Con-LD3024280367
Stirling Lab-Con89040122
West Dunbartonshire SNP-Oth109000322
West Lothian SNP-Oth1413010432

Community councils

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.

See also

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  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.)
  12. 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.
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