What powers does Scotland have?

Holyrood and Westminster at night

The people of Scotland will decide on independence from the UK in a referendum in the autumn of 2014. At the moment power is split between the Scottish government, in Holyrood, Edinburgh, and the Westminster government in London. But who controls what?

Powers Holyrood Westminster

Business and the economy

woman working on threaded machines
  • Holyrood agrees a separate budget to cover all devolved policy areas, based on a three-year funding settlement received from the Treasury.
  • It also sets inward investment and job creation goals for Scotland.
  • Holyrood has powers to vary income tax by 3p above or below UK rate, but the so-called "Tartan Tax" has never been used.
  • Westminster controls fiscal, economic and monetary policy; and government borrowing and lending.
  • Matters relating to weights and measures, telecommunications, the internet and the postal service are controlled by the UK government.
  • So too are consumer and employment rights, including industrial relations.

Culture, science and sport

Ballet dancer
  • Holyrood is responsible for funding culture and the arts, mainly through the agency Creative Scotland.
  • The Scottish government also oversaw the successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
  • Science policy is reserved to Westminster, except where it relates directly to schools and universities.
  • The National Lottery, betting and gaming are also reserved matter.
  • Westminster controls the rules relating to broadcasting.


Children in class
  • Holyrood is responsible for funding and running the education system in Scotland, from nurseries to universities.
  • Scotland has its own Scottish Qualifications Authority to deal with the school exam system.
  • Although Holyrood manages the budget for Scotland's education system, funding ultimately comes from the UK Treasury's block grant.

Environment and energy

  • Scotland has great scope on environmental powers, including regulating water quality and setting targets relating to climate change.
  • In the last parliament, MSPs passed what was reputed to be one of the world's most ambitious bids to cut carbon emissions, under the Climate Change Bill.
  • The Scottish government is opposed to new nuclear power stations and, despite the issue being reserved, it can refuse applications under the 1989 Electricity Act.
  • The UK government controls the generation, transmission, distribution and supply of electricity.
  • It also rules on nuclear energy and nuclear installations, plus nuclear safety, security and safeguards.
  • Westminster also oversees the oil and gas industry in relation to ownership; offshore installations and pipelines.

Farming and fisheries

sheep in field
  • Holyrood has control over rural development, agriculture, forestry, and natural heritage.
  • Scots ministers also aim to influence the UK government in Europe on issues such as fisheries, although they have formal role in international negotiations.
  • The fishing industry in Scotland comprises a significant proportion of the United Kingdom fishing industry.
  • At EU level, member states, in this case the UK, are responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Common Fisheries Policy.


Nurse and patient
  • Holyrood is responsible for Scotland's NHS; public health issues such as drink and drug abuse; dentistry; pharmaceutical services and mental health.
  • Scotland led the way in the UK when it banned smoking in public places. MSPs have now agreed to bring in a minimum price per unit of alcohol in efforts to end problem drinking.
  • Some aspects of health policy, such as abortion, surrogacy and embryology, are a matter for the UK government.
  • Human genetics is also an issue for MPs and not MSPs.

Housing and planning

Men building roof
  • Holyrood has control over the planning system, land use, and building standards in Scotland.
  • It also oversees housing and regeneration projects.
  • Housing and planning powers are distinct in Scotland, as they are in each of the devolved nations.

Justice and home affairs

Prison cell
  • Scotland has its own legal and justice system and as such legislates on issues to do with police, prisons and the court system.
  • It also controls youth justice and sentencing, legal aid and oversight of the legal profession.
  • Under the Scotland Act (2012) the Scottish government now has control over drink-drive limits, and the regulation of air weapons.
  • MPs retain the power to legislate on immigration, extradition, and emergency powers in Scotland, but many other aspects are devolved.
  • Further powers were devolved following the passing of the Scotland Act (2012), including regulation of air weapons.
  • Data protection, national security and extradition are ones for Westminster.

Local government

Two hands holding
  • The Scottish government is responsible for overseeing and funding the work of Scotland's 32 local councils.
  • The current SNP government has had a long-held agreement with councils, giving them more freedom to spend money in return for a council tax freeze.
  • The UK government retains oversight of local government in England.
  • Social services are provided by local councils throughout the UK, but the Treasury ultimately holds the purse strings.


CalMac ferry
  • There are several devolved issues under this brief in relation to public transport, roads and rail services.
  • Holyrood has responsibility for ferry services, including those provided by state-funded "lifeline" ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne.
  • Under the Scotland Act (2012) the Scottish government now has control over road speed limits.
  • The laws governing traffic regulations and vehicle excise duty are the preserve of the UK government. Prior to the Scotland Act (2012), speed limits were a matter for Westminster.
  • Regulating the railways and rail transport security is a matter for the UK government.
  • Marine and air transport, including HM Coastguard, comes under Westminster control.


Union flag and saltire
  • The Scottish government is being given temporary powers enabling it to hold a referendum on independence.
  • The SNP government and the UK coalition signed a deal in October agreeing that the poll would consist of a single yes/no question and would be held before the end of autumn 2014.
  • The Scottish Parliament was set up by an act of Westminster and, as such, decisions on Scotland's constitutional future are reserved.
  • A special agreement, signed by the Scottish and UK governments, now allows for a Scottish independence referendum in autumn 2014, with a single yes/no question.

Defence and foreign affairs

Astute submarine
  • Holyrood has no powers over defence and foreign affairs.
  • Legislative powers and responsibilities for the administration of defence remain with Westminster and the Ministry of Defence.

Immigration and nationality

Immigration officer
  • Holyrood has no powers on the issue of immigration and nationality.
  • Both these areas are wholly reserved to Westminster.

Social security

Job centre sign
  • The Scottish government has some say on employment and training matters, but Holyrood has no control over the range or level of benefits.
  • MPs in Westminster set the levels of benefits in Scotland - including child benefit, pensions, tax credits and welfare payments.
  • They also regulate occupational pension schemes and personal pension schemes.

More Scotland politics stories


Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.