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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 99-54 The Devolved Scottish Government A Guide to Terminology

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Research Note RN 99/54
9 December 1999

THE DEVOLVED SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT: A GUIDE TO THE TERMINOLOGY

This Note provides some guidance on some of the main terminology used to describe various aspects of the new devolved Government in Scotland. It covers terms used not only in the relevant legislation and in official documentation, but also in general political, parliamentary and media discussion. The assistance of Scottish Executive officials is gratefully acknowledged.

Arrangement of Sections

A. Introduction

B. Statutory definitions
1. The Scottish Executive
2. The Scottish Ministers
3. Ministers
4. Scottish Law Officers
5. Junior Scottish Ministers
6. Scottish Administration

C. Political/Official/Media definitions
1. Cabinet
2. Deputy Ministers
3. Government
4. Partnership/Coalition
5. Opposition
6. Parliament and Government/Executive

D. UK Government
1. Secretary of State for Scotland
2. Advocate General for Scotland
3. Scotland Office


A. INTRODUCTION

Some of the new terminology relating to Scottish devolution may appear, at times, potentially confusing. The glossary of Parliamentary terms which has been running in WHISP (1) provides some initial guidance. This present Note seeks to provide guidance on one particular aspect, the various terms being used to describe some or all of the devolved Scottish government. (2)

The relevant terms derive from a number of sources, which itself can provide scope for confusion, especially when they overlap or appear to contradict each other. The four main sources, in this context, are:

• Statutory definitions in the Scotland Act 1998,
• Use by politicians/civil servants (as in departmental papers or press notices),
• Use in the media etc.,
• Adoption (or not) of terminology from Westminster or from other parliaments

Some statutory or otherwise ‘official’ definitions may not cover all eventualities. This could be because many UK-equivalent terms, especially the more familiar ones, have rarely if ever needed to be so defined generally. In other cases, the usual drafting policy of only putting into legislation that which is necessary to make the particular policy operative may have meant that some concepts, useful in everyday discussion, did not require definition. Again the range and provenance of relevant devolution legislation (Scotland Act 1998, SIs made under the 1998 Act or other legislation, and the Parliament’s standing orders, for example) mean that some concepts have been the subject of refinement or adjustment for particular purposes.

Particular care needs to be taken, for example, with the term Scottish Executive, which appears to be being used under devolution in a number of ways:

• As ‘the Scottish Executive’, it is the statutory term for the group of the more senior ministers of the devolved Scottish government (but is not, currently, identical to the Scottish Cabinet)
• As the ‘Scottish Executive’, it is the name used by the present Scottish government for the overall devolved administrative organisation, including its political/ministerial side as appropriate, (in much the same way as The Scottish Office was used prior to devolution), in preference to the statutory term ‘Scottish Administration’
• It is also being used colloquially and in the media to describe, broadly, the devolved ministerial team as a whole, that is, the political/ministerial side of the overall devolved government. This is therefore roughly equivalent, in this context, to ‘the Scottish Government’, a term which is not used in the legislation or formally in official material, but has gained some currency in political and media circles.
• It may also be being used descriptively, in some contexts, in the political science sense of ‘executives’ as (with legislatures and courts) one of the three main arms of governance within devolved Scotland.

This is considered more fully in the relevant sections of this Note.

One important point always to bear in mind is which jurisdiction or tier of government is being meant when terms like ‘minister’, ‘government’, ‘cabinet’ and so on are being used. Some sources have sought to avoid confusion by using the descriptor ‘Scottish’ or ‘UK’ before such terms, at least in the early days of devolution. Some terms follow 1998 Act usage, a good example being
• ‘Parliament’ to denote the UK Parliament at Westminster; and
• ‘the Parliament’ to denote the Scottish Parliament.

It is important also to recognise that many of the ‘political’ and ‘official’ definitions or institutional arrangements may reflect the preferences and priorities (and coalition nature) of the particular government of the day. This applies in particular to the
• structure of the ministerial team (the number of ministers, their hierarchy within subject or other teams, their titles and so on)
• structure of the administrative government (the title(s), formal and informal, of the overall department, its division into specific departments and their titles)
As such, such terminology is not set in stone, and will always be subject to amendment by the present or a future administration.

B. Statutory definitions
1. The Scottish Executive: (3) The group of senior ministers in the Scottish government, defined in s44 of the Act, as

• The First Minister (as defined in s45)
• Other Ministers appointed by the First Minister under s47
• The two law officers (the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland)

So, at present, the Scottish Executive consists of the following: (4)

Rt Hon Donald Dewar MSP: First Minister
Jim Wallace QC MSP: Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice
Sam Galbraith MSP: Minister for Children and Education
Wendy Alexander MSP: Minister for Communities
Henry McLeish MSP: Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Jack McConnell MSP: Minister for Finance
Susan Deacon MSP: Minister for Health and Community Care
Tom McCabe MSP: Minister for Parliament
Ross Finnie MSP: Minister for Rural Affairs
Sarah Boyack MSP: Minister for Transport and the Environment
Rt Hon The Lord Hardie QC: Lord Advocate
Colin Boyd QC: Solicitor General for Scotland

2. The Scottish Ministers: The statutory collective term for the members of the Scottish Executive (s44(2)). This is used for various legal purposes, such as the conferring or exercise of statutory functions, and allows any one of them to exercise such powers interchangeably,(5) subject to any special provision for law officer functions and certain functions of the First Minister. So, in this sense, ‘the Scottish Ministers’ is the collective statutory term for the 12 people listed above. ‘Scottish ministers’ is often used for more descriptive situations, especially if referring potentially to all ministers including junior ministers, eg “Scottish ministers met yesterday …”, or “That is a matter for Scottish ministers”. There remains the potential ambiguity of such descriptions being taken to refer to UK ministers for Scottish matters (on which see Section D) rather than, or as well as, ministers in the devolved government.

3. Ministers: The statutory term for those members of the Scottish Executive appointed by the First Minister under s47, that is, currently, all those listed above except the First Minister and the two law officers. These are the following 9 people:

Jim Wallace QC MSP: Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice
Sam Galbraith MSP: Minister for Children and Education
Wendy Alexander MSP: Minister for Communities
Henry McLeish MSP: Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Jack McConnell MSP: Minister for Finance
Susan Deacon MSP: Minister for Health and Community Care
Tom McCabe MSP: Minister for Parliament
Ross Finnie MSP: Minister for Rural Affairs
Sarah Boyack MSP: Minister for Transport and the Environment

4. Scottish Law Officers: There are two such posts, formerly in the UK government, now transferred to the Scottish Executive:
• Lord Advocate: the senior law officer
• Solicitor General for Scotland

These are the only two members of the Scottish ministerial team who need not be MSPs, and neither is an MSP currently. The Lord Advocate is in the Scottish Cabinet, but the Solicitor General for Scotland, as a deputy minister, is not: (6)

Rt Hon The Lord Hardie QC Lord Advocate
Colin Boyd QC Solicitor General for Scotland

5. Junior Scottish Ministers: This is a statutory term for those ministers, appointed by the First Minister under s49, who are not members of the Scottish Executive (and thereby, not part of the collective ‘the Scottish Ministers’, nor do they have any collective term or statutory functions in their own right). Currently, there are 10 such posts, and they, and the Solicitor General for Scotland, are ‘deputy ministers’, supporting the Cabinet:

Peter Peacock MSP: Deputy Minister for Children and Education
Jackie Baillie MSP: Deputy Minister for Communities
Iain Gray MSP Deputy Minister for Community Care
Rhona Brankin MSP: Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport
Nicol Stephen MSP: Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Alasdair Morrison MSP: Deputy Minister for Enterprise in the Highlands & Islands and Gaelic
Angus MacKay MSP: Deputy Minister for Justice
Frank McAveety MSP: Deputy Minister for Local Government
Iain Smith MSP: Deputy Minister for Parliament
John Home Robertson MSP: Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs

6. Scottish Administration: This is a statutory term to denote both the political and administrative side of the Scottish government. It is defined in s126(6)-(8) of the Act as:
• Office-holders:
• Members of The Scottish Executive
• Junior Scottish Ministers
• Holders of non-ministerial offices:

• Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland
• Keeper of the Registers of Scotland
• Keeper of the Records of Scotland
• Others specified by Order in Council (7)

• Staff, i.e. civil servants of ministries/departments of the Scottish government (but not those of the UK Government offices under the Secretary of State for Scotland). They are, in law, UK civil servants, as members of the Home Civil Service (s51), as are civil servants in the Scotland Office or other departments of the UK Government. Staff of the Parliament are not covered by these definitions, as they are not civil servants. (8)

It is possible, once things are fully up and running, that the term may (also) be used colloquially to mean just the official side of the government, i.e. the civil servants and the department, although the preferred official term for this is the ‘Scottish Executive’. (9) This is what used to be The Scottish Office (minus the Scotland Office, the residual office supporting the UK ministers for Scottish matters). This consists of the following departments:

• Corporate Services (SECS)
• Development Department (SEDD)
• Education Department (SEED)
• Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department (SELLD)
• Executive Secretariat (SES)
• Finance (SEF)
• Health Department (SEHD)
• Justice Department (SEJD)
• Rural Affairs Department (SERAD)

C. Political/Official/Media definitions

1. Cabinet: This has no statutory meaning in its devolution sense, but it is used by the present Scottish Government to denote its leading ministers. Currently the Scottish Cabinet comprises all members of the Scottish Executive apart from the Solicitor General for Scotland, that is, the following 11:

Rt Hon Donald Dewar MSP: First Minister
Jim Wallace QC MSP: Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice
Sam Galbraith MSP: Minister for Children and Education
Wendy Alexander MSP: Minister for Communities
Henry McLeish MSP: Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Jack McConnell MSP: Minister for Finance
Susan Deacon MSP: Minister for Health and Community Care
Tom McCabe MSP: Minister for Parliament
Ross Finnie MSP: Minister for Rural Affairs
Sarah Boyack MSP: Minister for Transport and the Environment
Rt Hon The Lord Hardie QC: Lord Advocate

There are also Ministerial Committees, which address cross-cutting issues, and report regularly to the Cabinet. Details are contained in an Executive document of 23 August, (10) and can be summarised as follows:

• Poverty & Inclusion Task Force (chair: Minister for Communities)
• Ministerial Committee on Drug Misuse (chair: Deputy Minister for Justice)
• Ministerial Committee for Rural Development (chair: Minister for Rural Affairs)
• Ministerial Committee on Digital Scotland (chair: Minister for Children and Education)

2. Deputy ministers: This is a wholly non-statutory term in its devolution sense, used by the present Scottish Government to denote each minister, other than those in the Cabinet. The term is used in the ministerial title in all cases, other than the Solicitor General for Scotland (who, uniquely in this ministerial category, is a member of the Scottish Executive). Currently all the junior Scottish Ministers, and the Solicitor General for Scotland, are deputy ministers, ie the following 11:

Peter Peacock MSP: Deputy Minister for Children and Education
Jackie Baillie MSP: Deputy Minister for Communities
Iain Gray MSP: Deputy Minister for Community Care
Rhona Brankin MSP: Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport
Nicol Stephen MSP: Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning
Alasdair Morrison MSP: Deputy Minister for Enterprise in the Highlands & Islands and Gaelic
Angus MacKay MSP: Deputy Minister for Justice
Frank McAveety MSP: Deputy Minister for Local Government
Iain Smith MSP: Deputy Minister for Parliament
John Home Robertson MSP: Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs
Colin Boyd QC: Solicitor General for Scotland

3. Government: This is a complex concept, as there is no statutory term to cover the whole ministerial team (ie the group described as comprising, in statutory terms, the Scottish Executive+Junior Scottish Ministers, or, in ‘political’ terms, Cabinet+Deputy Ministers). Official sources,(11) as well as the media, seem to be using the term ‘Government’ or ‘Scottish Government’ for this grouping (eg ‘Partnership government’, ‘government business manager’). This is similar to the use of the term in relation to UK government.

The UK use of ‘government’ to mean the whole executive side, ie political (ministers) + administrative (officials/civil servants), may perhaps, over time, be replaced by ‘Administration’, ‘Scottish Administration’, in the Scottish context, to denote the Scottish ministerial teams, and their attendant administrative machine of ministries and officials. See the entries for ‘Scottish Administration’ and ‘the Scottish Executive’ above.

There are a number of key documents produced by the Executive underpinning the operation of the current Government, including:

• A partnership for Scotland: an agreement for the first Scottish Parliament
• Making it work together: a programme for government
• Scottish Ministerial Code
• The Scottish Executive: a guide to collective decision-making
• Scottish Executive ministerial committees
• Guidance on contacts with Members of the Scottish Parliament
• Guidance on contact with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre
• Code of Practice on access to Scottish Executive information
• Memorandum of Understanding and supplementary agreements (the initial concordats with the UK Government)

4. Partnership/Coalition: The legislation, not surprisingly, says nothing about the party make-up of any Scottish government. The common term for a government formally made up of more than one political party is a ‘coalition government’. (12) The present Scottish Government often calls itself a ‘partnership government’, with a ‘Partnership Executive’.(13)

The Scottish government is a distinct entity, independent of the political party or parties which supply its ministerial membership. All ministers, other than the Law Officers, will also be MSPs, and in that capacity will generally be representative in Parliament of a particular political party. Some ministers (such as, currently, the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and the Minister and Deputy Minister for Parliament) may also hold some party office (within the Parliament or more generally). As the present Scottish government is composed of members of two political parties, there is potential for confusion when party names are used (in the media and elsewhere) to describe its political complexion, especially when reflecting the balance of posts between the two parties.

Ministers are ministers of the Scottish Government/ Executive (as appropriate). They are often described in the media and elsewhere as, for example, ‘First/Justice/Communities Minister of the Scottish Parliament’. This is not strictly accurate.(14) See further, para 6, below.

5. Opposition: This term is not one which featured much in the Consultative Steering Group process, although it was used in the sidenote to s97 of the Scotland Act (‘assistance to opposition parties’). However it does seem to be taking root generally, within and outwith the Parliament, in various senses, such as ‘Government and opposition’, ‘main opposition party’, etc.. The Parliament formally uses the term ‘non-executive’ (as in non-Executive parties (15) or non- Executive business (16)). The SNP has described itself as the ‘Opposition’, and even the ‘Official Opposition’. (17)

At Westminster, the leader of the largest non-government party, as ‘Leader of the Opposition’, is recognised in parliamentary law and practice as, in some senses, representing all those not supporting the Government of the day. He or she is thereby, in effect, the ‘shadow Prime Minister’. This concept does not appear to be contemplated in the Scottish Parliament’s rules, though it could well develop in practice. Thus, at present, the leader of the largest non-Executive party seems not to be regarded formally also as ‘Leader of the Opposition’, (18) in the sense of parliamentary leader of all non-Executive party forces.

Under the current arrangements, the position of the Liberal Democrats can cause confusion in the media and elsewhere. While an ‘Executive party’, they are receiving financial assistance in the Parliament as a registered party, because they fall below the statutory threshold of being classified as a ‘government party’. However it would be inaccurate to apply the term ‘Opposition’ in this context (as it is at Westminster, where the equivalent funding scheme is for opposition parties only). The Liberal Democrats have appointed ‘party spokespersons’ from among their MSPs. (19)

Westminster-style terminology such as ‘front bencher’, ‘shadow minister’, ‘shadow cabinet’, ‘spokesperson’ and so on appears to be being used routinely in the context of the Parliament, and more generally under devolution.

6. ‘Parliament’ and ‘Government’/’Executive’: One potential source of confusion, which may lessen over time, is the use of ‘Scottish Parliament’ as some form of generic term for the overall devolution scheme itself, including its administrative and ministerial arms. This usage was common in the decade of policy-making (in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, for example) which led to devolution. This still occurs from time to time, as in phrases like “the Scottish Parliament’s commitment to working in partnership with business to improve the competitiveness of Scottish industry” (20), “The First Minister of the Scottish Parliament” (21) and so on. (22) This can be compounded by the use of media shorthand such as ‘Holyrood', which is generally used to refer to the Parliament (i.e. the Scottish equivalent of ‘Westminster’). However, it has sometimes been used more generically to encompass the Scottish Executive/Government also (embracing what, in UK terms, would be ‘Westminster’ and ‘Whitehall’). (23)

In this context the appropriate distinctions need to be made in the various capacities that a single person may have at the same time. Examples of this are those ministers who are also MSPs, and those ministers and MSPs who are also members of one or other House at Westminster, as MPs or peers. Some, like Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish, will be both ministers in Scotland and ‘backbenchers’ at Westminster. (24) It also compounds inaccuracies such as the description of staff of the Parliament as ‘civil servants’. (25)

D. UK Government on Scotland

The following is a very brief guide to the terminology of the new arrangements for the offices of UK government dealing solely with Scotland. It should, of course, be borne in mind that other UK ministers, departments and bodies will have responsibilities for policies for Scotland in the areas not devolved (reserved


Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 Issues 1-7, 9-16
2 All this should be distinguished from the UK ministers for Scotland, ie the Secretary of State for Scotland, his/her junior ministers, and the Advocate General for Scotland (the new UK law officer for Scotland). See Section D
3 As noted in the introduction, this term is being used in a variety of contexts. This is also the name by which the staff of the Scottish Administration will be corporately known. See Section B6 below. To differentiate the two, it has been suggested by Executive officials that ‘the Scottish Executive’ is used when referring to the political Executive under s44, and the ‘Scottish Executive’ for the department of the Administration (what was, in pre-devolution terms, The Scottish Office).
4 This is based on the lists on the Scottish Executive’s website, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/who/ministers.asp, with the addition of the Solicitor General. Other than First Minister or Deputy First Minister, lists in this Note reflect alphabetical order of portfolios, and are not intended to reflect any ‘pecking order’, as there is in the UK Government. For the purposes of this Note, the designation ‘MP’ for those ministers who are also Members of the House of Commons (Messrs Dewar, Galbraith, McLeish, Wallace and Home Robertson) is ignored.
5 Much in the way UK legislation refers to ‘the Secretary of State’, allowing, at least in theory, any Secretary of State to act. Legislation to date has tended to use ‘Scottish Ministers’, although the draft Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill uses ‘Ministers’ (see s24(1)).
6 ‘cabinet’ and ‘deputy ministers’ are defined below in Section C.
7 See, currently, the Scottish Administration (Offices) Order 1999, SI 1999 no. 1127, ie procurators fiscal and procurators fiscal depute (from 20 May 1999) and, from 1 July 1999, a number of offices specified in the Schedule, including the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Dental Officer, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and HM Inspector of Schools
8 Staff of the Parliament are employed by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (‘SPCB’ or parliamentary corporation), and are not ‘civil servants’ or part of the Scottish Government. See s21 and sch 2 of the Scotland Act 1998. Staff of the Scottish Administration, by contrast, are civil servants, holding office in the Home Civil Service (s51).
9 The new structure and organisation was explained in a Scottish Executive press release on 29 June, "The Scottish Executive: a new name for a new era", no. 1363/99.
10 They are also referred to briefly in Making it work together: a programme for government, published by the Executive in September. Details are listed on the Scottish Executive website under Scottish Executive Ministerial Committees, which is updated regularly.
11 For example, the First Minister, in his preface to Making it work together: a programme for government, writes of “this first Scottish Government”.
12 This can be distinguished from a minority government which retains power with the support of members or parties who remain outside the government (such as the so-called ‘Lib-Lab pact’ in 1977-78).
13 For example, the Permanent Secretary’s preface to the Guide to collective decision-making refers to “the Partnership Executive”.
14 ‘First Minister of the Scottish Parliament’, and similar terms, were used, for example, several times by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his oral evidence to the Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee on 21 July 1999, HC 777-i, 1998-99. See for example QQ55, 86 and 87. In context, it may sometimes be less inaccurate to say, ‘X Minister in the Scottish Parliament’, in recognition of their parliamentary role.
15 Standing Orders refers to “political parties which are not represented in the Scottish Executive” in Rule 5.6.1(b)
16 This is a difficult area, as there is clearly a difference, in parliamentary terms, between ‘the government’ in the sense of the whole ministerial team, and the ‘government parties’ in the sense of all those MSPs supporting the government. ‘Non-executive parties’ appears to be the opposite of the latter term.
17 See, for example, SNP press notices of 10 May, 13 May, and 17 May, and Alex Salmond’s speech congratulating Donald Dewar on his nomination as First Minister on 13 May (SPOR vol 1 col 24)
18 The SNP has sometimes appeared to have used such terminology. See, for example, Alex Salmond’s 13 May speech already cited.
19 See the Scottish Spokespersons page of the party’s website, which states that: “Please note that four Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs are Ministers in the Scottish Government and one other is the Convener of a Parliamentary Committee. These five members do not act as party spokespersons. Each of the Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs are also spokespersons in particular areas.”
20 Attributed to Henry McLeish, in the title and summary text of an Executive press release on 22 October, where his quoted words were “The Scottish Executive is committed to investing more in education and training to help achieve the skilled and adaptable workforce that will power the Scottish economy in the 21st century …The Government is working in partnership with business in Scotland to promote a culture of enterprise and innovation. … The Scottish Executive supports the establishment of a Scottish Institute of Enterprise that will play an important role in helping move ideas from the laboratory to the market place….”
21 This, and similar terms, were used, for example, several times by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his oral evidence to the Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee on 21 July 1999, HC 777-i, 1998-99. See for example QQ55, 86 and 87.
22 Some of the media discussion of the recent announcement of the Scottish and UK governments’ Joint Action Committees under the Joint Ministerial Committee appeared to imply that these new bodies were parliamentary rather than governmental committees. See further the relevant press releases on 1 December from the Scottish Executive, and the Treasury.
23 So, for example, the Herald’s 30 November story on the Joint Action Committees was entitled “Joint committees for Holyrood and Westminster”, and its opening paragraph referred to ‘joint ministerial policy committees between Westminster and Edinburgh’.
24 Similarly, the Parliament’s current Presiding Officer is a member of the House of Lords
25 See footnote 8, above

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