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Scottish Government
Scottish Gaelic: Riaghaltas na h-Alba
Scots: Scots Govrenment
Scottish Government Logo.svg
Leader First Minister
Appointed by First Minister approved by Parliament, ceremonially appointed by the monarch
Main organ Scottish Cabinet
Responsible to Scottish Parliament
Annual budget £40.3 billion (2018/19)
Headquarters St Andrew's House
2 Regent Road

The Scottish Government (Scottish Gaelic: Riaghaltas na h-Alba) is the devolved government of Scotland. It was formed in 1999 as the Scottish Executive following the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution.

The Scottish Government consists of the Scottish Ministers, which is used to describe their collective legal functions. The Scottish Government is accountable to the Scottish Parliament, which was also created by the Scotland Act 1998 with the first minister appointed by the monarch following a proposal by the Parliament. The responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament fall over matters that are not reserved in law to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Ministers are appointed by the first minister with the approval of the Scottish Parliament and the monarch from among the members of the Parliament. The Scotland Act 1998 makes provision for ministers and junior ministers, referred to by the current administration as Cabinet secretaries and ministers, in addition to two law officers: the lord advocate and the solicitor general for Scotland. Collectively the Scottish Ministers and the Civil Service staff that support the Scottish Government are formally referred to as the Scottish Administration.


The Scottish Government is responsible for devolved matters, and those not explicitly reserved to the British Parliament in Westminster, by Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998.

Devolved matters that were decided on by the Scotland Act 1998 included healthcare provision, education, justice, policing, rural affairs, economic development and transport. The Scottish Government also has administrative responsibility for some matters where it does not have legislative power. An example is Sections 36 & 37 of the Electricity Act 1989 which allow the Scottish Government to authorise power transmission lines and grant power generation consents.

In the aftermath of the Scottish independence Referendum in 2014, the Smith Commission was established to decide upon what matters should further be devolved given the increased hunger of the Scottish people for home rule. Some matters that were decided upon for devolution were some elements of Social Security, policing of transport, the Crown Estate in Scotland, road signage and speed limits and further elements of taxation.

The Scottish Government's budget is decided upon by the block grant that is formulated using the Barnett Formula with the ability to also increase or decrease income tax rates. In the financial year of 2016–17, the government's annual budget was £37.2 billion.

The government is led by the First Minister. The Scottish Parliament nominates one of its members to be appointed as first minister by the monarch. He or she is assisted by various cabinet secretaries with individual portfolios, who are appointed by him/her with the approval of parliament. Ministers are similarly appointed to assist cabinet secretaries in their work. The Scottish law officers, the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General, can be appointed from outside the parliament's membership, but are subject to its approval. They are appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the first minister. The first minister, the cabinet secretaries and the Scottish law officers are the members of the Scottish Government. They are collectively known as the "Scottish Ministers".

The members of the government have substantial influence over legislation in Scotland, putting forward the majority of bills that are successful in becoming Acts of the Scottish Parliament.

Civil service

Scottish Government also includes a civil service that supports the Scottish ministers. According to 2012 reports, there are 16,000 civil servants working in core Scottish Government directorates and agencies. The civil service is a matter reserved to the British parliament at Westminster (rather than devolved to Holyrood): Scottish Government civil servants work within the rules and customs of Her Majesty's Civil Service, but serve the devolved administration rather than British government.

Permanent secretary

The permanent secretary is the most senior Scottish civil servant, leads the strategic board, and supports the first minister and cabinet. The current permanent secretary is Leslie Evans, who assumed the post in July 2015.

The permanent secretary is a member of the Her Majesty's Civil Service, and therefore takes part in the permanent secretaries management group of the Civil Service and is answerable to the most senior civil servant in Britain, the Cabinet Secretary (not to be confused with Scottish Government cabinet secretaries), for his or her professional conduct. He or she remains, however, at the direction of the Scottish ministers.


"Directorates" are the ministries of the Scottish Government. They serve to execute government policy. Unlike in the British government, cabinet secretaries, the equivalent of British government secretaries of state, do not lead the directorates, and have no direct role in their operation. Instead, the directorates are grouped together into six "Directorates General", each run by a senior civil servant who is titled a "Director-General". As of May 2016, there are six Directorates General:

  • Learning and Justice Directorates
  • Health and Social Care Directorates
  • Economy Directorates
  • Finance Directorates
  • Communities Directorates
  • Strategy and Operations Directorates

Supporting these directorates are a variety of other corporate service teams and professional groups.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service serves as an independent prosecution service in Scotland, and is a ministerial department of the Scottish Government. It is headed by the Lord Advocate, who is responsible for prosecution, along with the procurators fiscal, under Scots law.

Strategic board

The strategic board is composed of the permanent secretary, the six directors-general, two chief advisers (scientific and economic) and four non-executive directors. The board is responsible for providing support to the government through the permanent secretary, and is the executive of the Scottish civil service.

Executive agencies

To deliver its work, there are 8 executive agencies established by ministers as part of government departments, or as departments in their own right, to carry out a discrete area of work. These include, for example, the Scottish Prison Service and Transport Scotland. Executive agencies are staffed by civil servants.

There are two non-ministerial departments that form part of the Scottish administration, and therefore the devolved administration, but answer directly to the Scottish Parliament rather than to ministers: these are the General Register Office for Scotland and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

Public bodies

The Scottish Government is also responsible for a large number of non-departmental public bodies. These include executive NDPBs (e.g. Scottish Enterprise); advisory NDPBs (e.g. the Scottish Law Commission); tribunals (e.g. the Children's Panel and Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland); and nationalised industries (e.g. Scottish Water). These are staffed by public servants, rather than civil servants.

The Scottish Government is also responsible for some other public bodies that are not classed as non-departmental public bodies, such as NHS Boards, Visiting Committees for Scottish Penal Establishments or HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland.

Change of name

Scottish Executive logo (bilingual)
The Scottish Executive's original logo, shown with English and Scottish Gaelic caption. The logo was replaced in September 2007, with the name changed to "Scottish Government", and the Flag of Scotland used instead of the Royal Arms. The original logo is still used by the Scotland Office.

The original Scotland Act 1998 gave the name "Scottish Executive" as the legal term for the devolved government. In January 2001, the then First Minister Henry McLeish suggested changing the official name from "Scottish Executive" to "Scottish Government". The reaction from the British government and from some Labour Party members and Scottish Labour MPs was allegedly hostile. This reaction was in contrast to a 2001 public survey by then-Labour chief whip Tom McCabe, which showed that only 29% of the Scottish public wanted the title Scottish Executive to remain.

Scottish politicians, including the Labour first minister, had often referred to the executive as the "government" and this trend increased following the 2007 election, when the SNP took office and Labour were in opposition for the first time. On 2 September 2007, the SNP minority government announced that the Scottish Executive was to be re-branded as the "Scottish Government".

The renaming was decided unilaterally by the minority government; as a consequence, the SNP was criticised by the three Unionist opposition parties for acting without allowing for parliamentary scrutiny, debate or approval of their plan. However, the term "Scottish Government" has since then become common currency among all of the political parties in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The official Gaelic title, Riaghaltas na h-Alba, has always meant "Government of Scotland".

"Scottish Executive" remained the legal name under section 44(1) of the Scotland Act 1998 until 2 July 2012. Neither the Scottish Executive nor the Scottish Parliament were able to change the legal name, as this required the British parliament to amend the Scotland Act. Section 12(1) of the Scotland Act 2012, which came into effect on 3 July 2012, formally changed the name of the Scottish Executive to the "Scottish Government".

At the same time that the Scottish Government began to use its new name, a new emblem was adopted. The earlier version featured the old name and a version of the Royal Arms for Scotland, but without the motto, the helm, the mantling, the crest, the war-cry above the crest, or the flags of Scotland and England carried by the supporters. In the rendering used, both supporters appeared to be crowned with the Crown of Scotland, whereas in the Royal Arms, the Scottish unicorn is usually shown crowned with the Scottish Crown, and the English lion with St Edward's Crown.

In the September 2007 rebranding, this depiction of the Royal Arms was replaced by one of the Flag of Scotland. However, the Royal Arms are still used by the Government for some official documents, such as directions issued in exercise of powers provided by legislation.

In 2016, a refreshed version of the Scottish Government logo was launched and used on all government websites and letters of correspondence.

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