Quiz 1: Scotland and the Constitution of the United Kingdom

Quiz 1: Scotland and the Constitution of the United Kingdom

Purpose: This quiz will help develop knowledge and understanding of the constitution of Scotland within the United Kingdom.

The quiz is the first of a series. The purpose of each quiz is to inform citizens of all ages, particularly school children and young people, so that citizens are able to make informed choices and participate in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future leading to the 2014 referendum on independence.

The quiz series is part of a project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Edinburgh and managed by Professor Stephen Tierney of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.

Additional Resources:

Instructions: Read the following text and answer the multiple choice questions below. For further discussion refer to the research and discussion section after the multiple choice questions.

Scotland and the Constitution of the United Kingdom

There are many different ways in which a country can be governed and the process of deciding how people ought to be governed is a matter of great importance. This is why the referendum in 2014 is so significant for all the citizens in Scotland as well as for people throughout the United Kingdom.

Do you know how Scotland is currently governed? A good starting point is the constitution of the United Kingdom.

In many countries the constitution is a written document which establishes how the government and parliament are elected as well as the rights and duties of citizens. The United Kingdom is very unusual in not having a written constitution. Our constitution is ‘unwritten’, or what is often called ‘uncodified’.

To understand the constitution of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place within it, it is necessary to look back in time to important events which have together built that constitution.

The constitution of the United Kingdom has developed gradually over the past 400 years. Scotland and England joined together first in a Union of the Crowns in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland also became King of England, and then through a parliamentary or constitutional union in 1707 (brought about by the Acts of Union 1707) where the two parliaments of Scotland and England ceased to exist and a new Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain was created.

The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the Head of State for the United Kingdom and still performs certain ceremonial roles on behalf of the United Kingdom in the name of the Crown.

From 1707-1999 Scotland was governed directly from London. This meant that there was one government for the United Kingdom and one parliament for the United Kingdom (Ireland, including Northern Ireland, has had different systems of government but we are not concerned with that here).

For much of the 20th century a branch of the UK Government, called the Scotland Office, was responsible for administering power in Scotland. A dramatic change, however, took place in 1998. The United Kingdom Parliament passed a new constitutional law called the ‘Scotland Act’ in that year. This Act led to the creation of a new Scottish Executive (now called the Scottish Government) and a new Scottish Parliament was established in Edinburgh in 1999.
The Scotland Act also brought with it a new system of government for Scotland called ‘Devolution’. Devolution means that the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster has transferred, or ‘devolved’, some law making powers to the Scottish Parliament. But Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Parliament continues to make law in some areas for Scotland (for example on tax, on defence and on foreign relations with other countries), while the Scottish Parliament has powers to make law in other areas (for example, education, housing and transport).

People living in Scotland vote for Members of Parliament (MPs) to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament in London and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to sit in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Scotland also has its own Government, the Scottish Government, which is responsible for devolved powers (matters such as education, housing and transport), while the UK Government also governs Scotland in relation to other issues that are not devolved, for example, defence, foreign relations and most aspects of taxation. The head of the Scottish Government is the First Minister for Scotland; the head of the UK Government is the Prime Minister.