7 must-know facts about Scottish politics

Public Entrance Scottish Parliament

Think you know about politics north of the border? Here are seven must-know facts about Scottish politics.

1. The three first ministers

In the first parliamentary term, there were no less than three Scottish first ministers. Labour’s Donald Dewar tragically died after just over a year in the top job. He was then replaced by Henry McLeish who quit following his “Officegate” scandal. Jack McConnel was then picked to replace him. Despite a rocky start to the parliament, McConnel went on to serve as first minister until 2007.

2. Elected first ministers

Unlike at Westminster, first ministers are elected. While they are not elected by the people directly, MSPs have a direct say in who they want as first minister although in every case since the Scottish parliament’s formation, the winner has been the leader of the largest party.

That did not stop Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie trying his luck after the 2016 Scottish election. He won 5 votes – all from his own MSPs. Nicola Sturgeon won the vote.

Nicola Sturgeon

3. Scotland has had its fair share of referendums

The most recent vote took place in 2014 when Scotland decided to stay with the rest of the UK, however, the country has also voted on devolution – not once, but twice before.

The first attempt came in in 1979, when Scotland voted for a devolved legislative body 52% - 48%. However, according to the BBC, for the vote to pass, 40% of Scotland’s entire electorate had to back the measure. In this case it did not.

Following that, Margaret Thatcher came to power and the prospect of devolution was put on hold until 1997 when Scotland voted for a Scottish parliament. The country also voted to give the body tax-raising powers.

4. The constituency of West Fife elected a Communist MP

Communism has never really taken off in Britain, but the Scottish constituency of West Fife elected a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain on two occasions. According to the Guardian, Willie Gallagher served as an MP for fifteen years between the 1935 and 1950 elections.

5. Scotland’s rainbow parliament

At the 2003 election, Scotland elected one of its most diverse parliaments ever. Under Scotland’s AMS voting system, most MPs are elected via FPTP single-member constituencies, but the rest are elected on regional top-up lists to account for FPTP’s disproportionality. At the 2003 election, seven parties entered parliament, as did three independents. Labour, the SNP, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Scottish Greens all made the cut, but they were joined by six Scottish Socialist MSPs and one Scottish Senior Citizens Unity party member.

Despite the diverse parliament, the Lib-Lab coalition of the previous parliament was able to continue with a majority.

6. Scotland uses four different electoral systems

That’s right, when it comes to voting systems, Scotland is spoilt for choice.

  • · First-past-the-post is used for Westminster elections, as is the case for the rest of the UK.
  • · The Scottish parliament is elected via the top-up-FPTP hybrid system of AMS.
  • · Scottish Councils are elected using the preferential multi-member ward Single Transferable Vote system.
  • · European elections are conducted via the D’Hondt method of proportional representation – the same system used across the rest of Great Britain.

Ruth Davidson MSP with GALVmed's Senior Director of R&D

7. The longest-serving first minister

The longest serving minister is Alex Salmond, who hit the magic number on the 7th November 2012, according to the Telegraph. He served a further two years, taking his total time of service to seven and a half years. In order for Nicola Sturgeon to beat him, she will need to win the 2021 election and continue as leader for some time after that.

Alex Salmond MSP