Act of Union 1707: Contemporary context

From the Act of Union to the Scotland Act, the United Kingdom in the twenty-first century and beyond.

A Scottish Parliament

Debates continued about Scotland’s position in the United Kingdom throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

By the 1970s there was political support for power to be devolved to a Scottish assembly sitting in Edinburgh, although the Scottish National Party – which secured 11 MPs at the October 1974 general election – believed that Scotland should again be completely independent from England.

Parliament inserted a requirement to hold a referendum to test support for the assembly and the result of the referendum held in March 1979 did not meet the threshold set out in the 1978 Scotland Act.

Broad consensus for change

The devolution debate ebbed and flowed during the 1980s but by the following decade there was again broad support for power to be transferred to an assembly based in Edinburgh.

Another referendum held in September 1997 produced a decisive majority for devolution and, following the passage of Scotland Act at Westminster in 1998, the first elections were held to the newly created Scottish Parliament in May 1999.

Control of much domestic policy

The Scottish Parliament has control of a wide range of domestic Scottish policy including health and education. The Scotland Bill will deliver additional powers to the Scottish Parliament following the Smith Commission Agreement reached following the referendum on independence held in September 2014.

Referendum in 2014

In October 2012, the UK and Scottish Governments agreed to give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014. Legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2013 which set out the campaign rules, the date and the question.

The referendum on Scottish independence took place in September 2014. The question asked was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. Slightly over 55% of voters answered “No”, with slightly under 45% of voters answering “Yes”.

Scotland’s relationship with England, and its status within the United Kingdom, remains a live issue more than three centuries after the Act of Union.

Page last updated August 2016.

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