The term is used in politics to pejoratively refer to a group of Scottish Labour Party politicians and broadcasters who are believed to have undue influence over the governance of England, such as the constitutional arrangement allowing Scottish MPs to vote on English matters, but, by convention, not the other way around.[note 1] The term is occasionally used in the UK press and in parliamentary debates.
Since the mid-1960s, the Conservatives have suffered from declining popularity amongst Scottish voters. In the Scottish Parliament general election, 1999, the Conservatives won only 18 of 129 seats. That number has stayed relatively steady, with the party winning only 15 seats in the most recent election, making it the No. 3 party in Scottish politics after the SNP and Labour. In U.K. general elections, the Conservatives have gone from a high point of being the only party to carry both a majority of votes and seats in Scotland in 1955 to a complete wipeout, winning 0 seats in 1997, since 2001 there has been a single Tory MP in Scotland.
With Labour being the sole British party with broad support in Scotland, the ranks of Scots among Labour politicians have over a period of four or five decades become significant. Thus, the ranks of the so-called Scottish mafia supplied the last two Labour prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as their predecessor as head of the Labour party, John Smith.
The influential position of Scots in the Labour party is part of the plot of the television comedy The Thick of It, in which the character of the prime minister's director of communications (or, as he is referred to by other characters, the "enforcer"), Malcolm Tucker, is portrayed as an aggressive, foul-mouthed Scotsman. Many of the members of Tucker's staff, such as his No. 2, Jamie MacDonald, are also belligerent Scotsmen.
The term has also been applied to the group of Scottish footballers who won several domestic and European honours in the 1960s and 70s while playing for the English first division club Leeds United; namely goalkeeper David Harvey (1965–1980, 1982–1984), defender Gordon McQueen (1972–1978), midfielder Billy Bremner (1959–1976)), left winger Eddie Gray (1965–1983), right winger Peter Lorimer (1963–1979, 1983–1986) and striker Joe Jordan (1970–1978).
In the city of Dunedin New Zealand the "Tartan Mafia" is used to describe the group of aging businessmen who are purported to run the city from behind the scenes. The business community do not disown this usage.
- "For two decades the Scottish Labour mafia ruled the country like a fiefdom. Now, what’s left of the party swims with the fishes", Sunday Times Scotland, 24 May 2009
- 'A monster of Labour's own making', Daily Mail, 4 September 2008
- Johnson, Boris (30 November 2009). "A healthy, wealthy London is the best medicine for Scotland's ills". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- Paxman blasts Scottish Raj, The Sunday Times, 13 March 2005
- Jack, Ian (15 July 2006). "Border disputes". The Guardian (Guardian Newspapers Limited). Retrieved 2006-10-02.
- Johnson, Boris (31 August 2006). "There's nothing national about the National Health". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Group Limted). Retrieved 2006-10-02.
- "12 February 2004". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Lords). col. GC571..
- "7 July 1977". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Lords). col. 523..
- Joe Jordan, STV, 19 April 2010
-  Tales of The Tartan Mafia