Election 2015

Election 2015: Scottish power at Westminster

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Scots have held significant cabinet roles over the last twenty years

The influence Scottish National Party MPs could have after the election has been hitting the headlines in recent weeks. But the idea of Scottish politicians wielding power at Westminster is hardly anything new.

Few parts of the UK have been discussed as much as Scotland in political circles over the last year.

The independence referendum was perhaps the most important British political event of 2014. Now, attentions are turning to the changing landscape north of Hadrian's Wall ahead of the election.

Polls suggest the SNP is on course to significantly increase its share of the vote and the number of MPs the party returns to London on 7 May.

Image copyright PA
Image caption David Cameron has raised the prospect of a deal between Labour and the SNP after the election

Ed Miliband, whose Labour Party faces the biggest challenge from the SNP, has said Scottish voters will help decide the outcome of the election.

Nicola Sturgeon has argued a vote for the SNP "will make Scotland's voice heard at Westminster more strongly than it has ever been before".

And that has led David Cameron to warn of the "frightening" prospect of a Labour minority government working with SNP MPs.

The role of Scotland's elected representatives at Westminster is perhaps in the spotlight like never before. But there are a number of examples of Scottish MPs holding significant roles over the last three decades.

Financial crisis

Take 13 October 2008, when the government announced it was pumping billions of pounds into Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS - one of the most significant government interventions in decades.

Who were the two men behind the unprecedented injection of cash? Scottish Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Scottish Chancellor Alistair Darling. The two would continue to be at the forefront of the response of the economic crisis over the following months.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Brown and Mr Darling occupied 10 and 11 Downing Street for three years

Mr Brown - born in Giffnock, university educated in Edinburgh and a Fife MP for more than 30 years - is perhaps the most significant Scottish politician at Westminster of the last three decades.

He was a central figure in Labour's shadow cabinets between 1987 and 1997, before taking over as chancellor in 1997. He did that job for a decade before succeeding Tony Blair as prime minister, a position he held for three years. In opposition and government, Mr Brown was at the forefront of British politics for almost a quarter of a century.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Robin Cook - another key politicians during Tony Blair's early years

Mr Blair's first cabinet in May 1997 had 24 members, from which no less than 7 were Scottish. That's nearly a third - substantially more than the Scottish proportion of the UK population (currently around 8.2%).

Robin Cook, born in the west of Scotland, was Mr Blair's first foreign secretary, holding the post until 2001. Mr Cook stayed in cabinet until 2003, when he resigned as leader of House of Commons over the Iraq war.

In Mr Blair's first cabinet, the other Scottish ministers were Transport Secretary Gavin Strang, Scottish secretary and later Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar, Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, Defence Secretary George Robertson and Mr Darling, then chief secretary to the treasury.


More held high office during the Blair and Brown years, including John Reid, who served as home secretary after overseeing health and defence, Lord Falconer, who served as lord chancellor and Douglas Alexander, who occupied the roles of transport and Scottish secretary.

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Reid was health minister in the UK government - despite Scotland's health policy being devolved

David Maddox, The Scotsman's Westminster correspondent, says the influence of Scots during the Labour years was clear - and caused some resentment.

"There were many people, mostly Tories, who thought Scots had too much influence in the Blair/ Brown years which is why Mr Brown's Scottishness in particular was used as a political attack in England," he says.

"Probably the issue which brought it to a head was Scots like John Reid at health and Alistair Darling at transport taking responsibility for departments where the responsibilities were devolved. The resentment on this has led to the English votes for English laws debate now."

Coalition influence

The Conservatives, in the last parliament, had just one MP - David Mundell, who represented Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale - north of the border.

Their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats were the party with the second most Scottish MPs - a total of 11 before Parliament was dissolved.

Image caption Michael Gove was born in Edinburgh
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption David Cameron spoke of his own Scottish heritage during the independence campaign

That meant just 12 of the coalition's 358 MPs represented Scottish constituencies.

But Scots fare comparatively well in the cabinet.

Two ministers - Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, both Lib Dems - are Scots, who represented Scottish constituencies.

Three others - Michael Fallon, Iain Duncan Smith and Stephen Crabb, all Tories - were born in Scotland. The chief whip, Michael Gove, was born in Edinburgh and raised in Aberdeen.

Prime Minister David Cameron has discussed his Scottish roots. "My surname goes back to the West Highlands," Mr Cameron said in a speech last year.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Douglas Alexander, second from left, is a key player on the Labour front bench

In the shadow cabinet Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary and Labour campaign chief, comes from the West of Scotland. Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary, represented the Glasgow East constituency in the last Parliament. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, was born in Inverness.

Away from the front benches, there were other Scots playing key roles in Westminster politics before Parliament was dissolved. Sir Malcolm Rifkind was until the recent "cash-for-access" scandal chairman of perhaps Parliament's most powerful committee - the Intelligence and Security Committee.

From the 39 committees at Westminster five other chairmen were Scottish MPs at the end of the latest term.

"The Scottish influence has inevitably declined from the high point under Blair/ Brown," says The Scotsman's David Maddox. "But it is still very significant."

BBC News Timeliner: Scottish independence

The relationship between politics in Scotland and in the United Kingdom as a whole has changed dramatically since the 1970s, as a quick delve into the BBC archives displays.

Watch video from the vaults on the BBC News Timeliner