The United Kingdom parliament registers the UK with the United Nations as: (in reverse order) a province, a principality, and two countries. It comes as a chilling surprise to many a unionist that Scotland is defined as it should be, a country in its own right.
Consequently, when somebody in the north of England asks why Scotland complains about its civil rights, adding the north of England suffers from Westminster rule too, they are unwittingly racist and geographically challenged. Scotland is not Greater England. There are two nations labouring under a grossly out-dated Act of Union.
What is The Scotland Act?
In Scotland a list of matters is explicitly reserved in the Scotland Act 1998. Any matter not explicitly listed in the Act is implicitly devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Reserved powers can be transferred from Westminster to Scotland under Section 30 of the Scotland Act, for example in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012.
The Scottish Parliament was reinstated by the Scotland Act 1998, passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This Act sets out the matters still dealt with by the Westminster parliament, referred to as reserved matters.
The legal ability of the Scottish Parliament to legislate (its “legislative competence”) on a matter is largely determined by whether it is reserved or not.
Anything not listed as a specific reserved matter in the Scotland Act is automatically the preserve of Scotland. Some powers were never transferred in the Act of Union, they already existed and remained unique to Scotland, such as Scotland’s education system, and its justice system – the latter a point of contention whenever the UK Supreme Court overrides Scottish jurisprudence.
What powers does the Scottish parliament hold?
The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood looks after agriculture, education, the environment, health, local government, and justice. Lately it was given modest tax raising powers, but sufficiently hobbled so that it cannot institute a system radically different from England.
Generally, all monies raised in Scotland go to the UK Treasury – including all oil revenues issuing from Scottish waters – which then gives Scotland an annual allowance, invariably way short of the money raised by Scotland, including VAT and tax from parking fines.
BBC’s Scottish raised license fee is a prime example of that gross bias whereby it returns a fraction of fees to making programmes in Scotland. This cockeyed, one-sided system has proved contentious on both sides of the border.
What powers does the UK Parliament hold?
Reserved matters are subdivided into two categories: General reservations and specific reservations.
General reservations cover major issues always handled centrally by the Parliament in Westminster: the constitution, including: the Crown; the Union with England, Northern Ireland and Wales; the UK Parliament; the existence of the (criminal) High Court of Justiciary; the existence of the (civil) Court of Session; registration and funding of political parties; international relations, including: international development; the regulation of international trade; the Home Civil Service; defence; treason.
Specific reservations cover particular areas of social and economic policy which are reserved to Westminster, listed under 11 ‘heads’
Head A – Financial and Economic Matters
Fiscal, economic and monetary policy: currency; financial matters; financial markets; money laundering. (Considering there are so many tax havens owned and approved by the UK, “controlling” money laundering isn’t a joke, but it is extreme irony!)
Head B – Home Affairs
Drug abuse; data protection and access to such information; elections; firearms; film classification; immigration and nationality; scientific procedures on live animals; national security and counter terrorism; betting, gaming and lotteries; (hence the UK Treasury was able to lift £118 million from the Scottish Lottery to fund the debts of the London Olympics) emergency powers; extradition; lieutenancies.
Head C – Trade and Industry
Business associations; insolvency; competition; (but not including the freedom of Rupert Murdoch to own all news and publishing outlets) intellectual property; import and export control; (including blockading Scotland if it goes independent again) customer protection; product standards, safety and liability; weights and measures; telecommunications; (that means, the internet, Twitter, and GCHQ hacking your phone calls and computer) postal services; (hence you pay £50 for the delivery of a £5 package if you live in the Highlands) research councils.
Head D – Energy
Electricity, oil and gas, (no chance those get devolved to Scotland when it actually owns the resources) coal; nuclear energy; energy efficiency.
Head E – Transport
Marine transport; air transport. (Keep paying those wild airport charges. Five minutes collection parking – £3. Ten minutes parking £8. Fifteen minutes parking £ 16.)
Head F – Social Security
Social Security schemes; child support; pensions. (Westminster retains the right to refuse you welfare payments and social security.)
Head G – Regulation of the Professions
Architects; health professions; auditors.
Head H – Employment
Employment and industrial relations; health and safety. (Broke a leg at work? – sue Westminster!)
Head J – Health and Medicines
Abortion; xenotransplantation; (process of grafting or transplanting organs) embryology, surrogacy; and human genetics; medicines, medical supplies; poisons; welfare foods.
Head K – Media and Culture
Broadcasting. (The BBC is laughing its boss heads off) public lending rights.
Head L – Miscellaneous
Judicial salaries; equal opportunities; control of weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, (Trident gets dumped wherever Westminster wants it dumped) ordinance survey; time; (bet that takes you by surprise, then again that’s why every year some Tory land owning MP demands clock changing favouring Scottish winters is abolished) and finally … outer space. (Let’s hope Westminster doesn’t get hold of that- oh, wait!)
The executive powers of Scottish Government ministers generally follow the same boundaries as the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, i.e. if the Parliament can legislate on a matter, then any ministerial powers under statute or royal prerogative are exercised by the Scottish Ministers. It’s also possible for the Scottish Ministers to be given powers in relation to reserved matters, a process known as executive devolution.
Confusion and clueless continue
The reserved matters continue to be a battle ground over conflicts and anomalies. For example, while the funding of Gaelic Television is controlled by the Scottish Government, broadcasting is a reserved matter, and while energy is a reserved matter – think nuclear power stations – planning permission for power stations is devolved. Fracking is reserved, yet the Scottish government can delay, and delay again to stop fracking in Scotland.
For the full United Nations document click on the link in the Comments section below under Greg’s contribution – you’ll need half an hour to read it all.