Secretary of State for Scotland

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Secretary of State for Scotland
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (Government in Scotland).svg
Official portrait of David Mundell crop 3.jpg
David Mundell

since 8 May 2015
Scotland Office
Style The Right Honourable
Appointer Elizabeth II
Inaugural holder The Earl of Mar
Formation 1 May 1707
Website Scotland Office
Flag of Scotland.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Rùnaire Stàite na h-Alba, Scots: Secretar o State for Scotland) is the principal minister of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland representing Scotland. They head the Scotland Office (formerly the Scottish Office), a government department based in London and Edinburgh.

Post history[edit]

Prior to devolution (pre–1999)[edit]

The post was first created after the Acts of Union 1707 created the Kingdom of Great Britain from the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. It was abolished in 1746, following the Jacobite rising of 1745. Scottish affairs thereafter were managed by the Lord Advocate until 1827, when responsibility passed to the Home Office. In 1885 the post of Secretary for Scotland was re-created, with the incumbent usually a member of the Cabinet. In 1926 this post was upgraded to a full Secretary of State appointment.

Post devolution (1999–present)[edit]

After the 1999 Scottish devolution, the powers of the Scotland Office were divided, with most transferred to the Scottish Government or to other British government departments, leaving only a limited role for the Scotland Office. Consequently, the role of Secretary of State for Scotland has been diminished. A recent Scottish Secretary, Des Browne, held the post whilst simultaneously being Secretary of State for Defence.

The current Secretary of State for Scotland is David Mundell.

Secretaries of State for Scotland 1707–1746[edit]

John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar had served as Secretary of State of the independent Scotland from 1705. Following the Acts of Union 1707, he remained in office.

The post of Secretary of State for Scotland existed after the Union of the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England in 1707 till the Jacobite rising of 1745. After the rising, responsibility for Scotland lay primarily with the office of the Home Secretary, usually exercised by the Lord Advocate.

Name Portrait Term of office
The Earl of Mar John Erskine - Earl of Mar - Project Gutenberg etext 20946.jpg (since 1705)
1 May 1707
3 February 1709
The Duke of Queensberry 2ndDukeOfQueensberryFull.jpg 3 February 1709 6 July 1711
The Earl of Mar John Erskine - Earl of Mar - Project Gutenberg etext 20946.jpg 30 September 1713 24 September 1714
The Duke of Montrose James Graham 1682-1742.jpg 24 September 1714 August 1715
The Duke of Roxburghe John Ker, 1st Duke of Roxburghe.jpg 13 December 1716 August 1725
Office thereafter vacant.
One reference book[which?] claims that Charles Douglas, 2nd Earl of Selkirk
held this office from 1731, but there is no other authority for this claim.
The Marquess of Tweeddale John Hay, 4th Marquess of Tweeddale.jpg 16 February 1742 3 January 1746

Office thereafter vacant.

Secretaries and Secretaries of State for Scotland[edit]

The Secretary for Scotland was chief minister in charge of the Scottish Office in the United Kingdom government. The Scotland Office was created in 1885 with the post of Secretary for Scotland.[1] From 1892 the Secretary for Scotland sat in cabinet. The post was upgraded to full Secretary of State rank as the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.[2]

From 1885 to 1999, Secretaries for Scotland and Secretaries of State for Scotland also ex officio held the post of Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland.[3] From 1999, the position of Keeper of the Great Seal has been held by the First Minister of Scotland.[4]

From June 2003 and October 2008, the holder of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland from 13 June 2003 through to 3 October 2008 also held another Cabinet post concurrently, leading to claims that the Scottish role was seen as a part-time ministry.

Colour key (for political parties):
  Conservative / Conservative & Unionist   Unionist   Liberal   Labour   National Labour   Liberal National   Liberal Democrats   No party

Secretaries for Scotland (1885–1926)[edit]

Name Portrait Term of office Scottish constituency Political party Prime Minister
The Duke of Richmond Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 6th Duke of Richmond, 6th Duke of Lennox, and 1st Duke of Gordon.jpg 17 August 1885 28 January 1886 Peer Conservative The Marquess of Salisbury
George Trevelyan Sir G O Trevelyan, 2nd Bt NPG.jpg 8 February 1886 March 1886
Hawick Burghs Liberal William Ewart Gladstone
The Earl of Dalhousie 13thEarlOfDalhousie.jpg 5 April 1886 20 July 1886 Peer Liberal
Arthur Balfour Arthur Balfour, photo portrait facing left.jpg 5 August 1886 11 March 1887 No Conservative The Marquess of Salisbury
The Marquess of Lothian 9thMarquessOfLothian.jpg 11 March 1887 11 August 1892 Peer Conservative
Sir George Trevelyan, Bt Sir G O Trevelyan, 2nd Bt NPG.jpg 18 August 1892 21 June 1895 Glasgow Bridgeton Liberal William Ewart Gladstone
The Earl of Rosebery
The Lord Balfour of Burleigh 6th Lord Balfour of Burleigh.jpg 29 June 1895 9 October 1903
Peer Conservative The Marquess of Salisbury
(Unionist Coalition)
Arthur Balfour
(Unionist Coalition)
Andrew Murray Andrew Murray, 1st Viscount Dunedin NPG.jpg 9 October 1903 2 February 1905 Buteshire Conservative
The Marquess of Linlithgow Hopetoun.jpg 2 February 1905 4 December 1905 Peer Conservative
John Sinclair
(Baron Pentland from 1909)
John Sinclair MP.jpg 10 December 1905 13 February 1912 Forfar
(Peer from 1909)
Liberal Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
H. H. Asquith
Thomas Wood Thomas McKinnon Wood.jpg 13 February 1912 9 July 1916 Glasgow St Rollox Liberal
H. H. Asquith
Harold Tennant Harold J. Tennant o.jpg 9 July 1916 5 December 1916 Berwickshire Liberal
Robert Munro 1922 Robert Munro.jpg 10 December 1916 19 October 1922 Wick Burghs 1916–18
Roxburgh and Selkirk 1918–22
Liberal David Lloyd George
The Viscount Novar Ac.munroferguson.jpg 24 October 1922 22 January 1924 Peer none Bonar Law
Stanley Baldwin
William Adamson William Adamson.jpg 22 January 1924 3 November 1924 West Fife Labour Ramsay MacDonald
Sir John Gilmour, Bt SirJohnGilmour.jpg 6 November 1924 26 July 1926 Glasgow Pollok Unionist Stanley Baldwin

Secretaries of State for Scotland (1926–present)[edit]

Name Portrait Term of office Scottish constituency Political party Prime Minister
Sir John Gilmour, Bt SirJohnGilmour.jpg 15 July 1926 4 June 1929 Glasgow Pollok Unionist Stanley Baldwin
William Adamson William Adamson.jpg 7 June 1929 24 August 1931 West Fife Labour Ramsay MacDonald
Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt The Air Ministry, 1939-1945. CH10270.jpg 25 August 1931 28 September 1932
Caithness and Sutherland Liberal Ramsay MacDonald
(1st & 2nd National Min.)
Sir Godfrey Collins Sir Godfrey Collins.jpg 28 September 1932 29 October 1936 Greenock Liberal National
Stanley Baldwin
(3rd National Min.)
Walter Elliot 29 October 1936 6 May 1938 Glasgow Kelvingrove Unionist
Neville Chamberlain
(4th National Min.;
War Coalition)
John Colville No image.svg 6 May 1938 10 May 1940 Midlothian and Peebles Northern Unionist
Ernest Brown 14 May 1940 8 February 1941 Leith Liberal National Winston Churchill
(War Coalition)
Thomas Johnston No image.svg 8 February 1941 23 May 1945 West Stirlingshire Labour
The Earl of Rosebery Lord Dalmeny Vanity Fair 1904-09-22.jpeg 25 May 1945 26 July 1945 Peer Liberal National Winston Churchill
(Caretaker Min.)
Joseph Westwood No image.svg 3 August 1945 7 October 1947 Stirling and Falkirk Labour Clement Attlee
Arthur Woodburn No image.svg 7 October 1947 28 February 1950 Clackmannan and Eastern Stirlingshire Labour
Hector McNeil No image.svg 28 February 1950 26 October 1951 Greenock Labour
James Stuart No image.svg 30 October 1951 13 January 1957 Moray and Nairn Unionist Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Anthony Eden
John Maclay No image.svg 13 January 1957 13 July 1962 West Renfrewshire Unionist Harold Macmillan
Michael Noble No image.svg 13 July 1962 16 October 1964 Argyllshire Unionist
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Willie Ross No image.svg 18 October 1964 19 June 1970 Kilmarnock Labour Harold Wilson
Gordon Campbell No image.svg 20 June 1970 4 March 1974 Moray and Nairn Conservative Edward Heath
Willie Ross No image.svg 5 March 1974 8 April 1976 Kilmarnock Labour Harold Wilson
Bruce Millan No image.svg 8 April 1976 4 May 1979 Glasgow Craigton Labour James Callaghan
George Younger George Younger.JPEG 5 May 1979 11 January 1986 Ayr Conservative Margaret Thatcher
Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind.jpg 11 January 1986 28 November 1990 Edinburgh Pentlands Conservative
Ian Lang No image.svg 28 November 1990 5 July 1995 Galloway and Upper Nithsdale Conservative John Major
Michael Forsyth No image.svg 5 July 1995 2 May 1997 Stirling Conservative
Donald Dewar Donald Dewar.jpg 3 May 1997 17 May 1999
First Minister of Scotland)
Glasgow Anniesland Labour Tony Blair
John Reid ReidTaormina crop.jpg 17 May 1999 25 January 2001 Hamilton North and Bellshill Labour
Helen Liddell No image.svg 25 January 2001 13 June 2003 Airdrie and Shotts Labour
Alistair Darling
(also Secretary of State for Transport)
AlistairDarlingABr cropped.jpg 13 June 2003 5 May 2006 Edinburgh Central 2003–05
Edinburgh South West 2005–06
Douglas Alexander
(also Secretary of State for Transport)
Douglas Alexander at the India Economic Summit 2008.jpg 5 May 2006 27 June 2007 Paisley and Renfrewshire South Labour
Des Browne
(also Secretary of State for Defence)
Des Browne 070114-D-7203T-010.jpg 28 June 2007 3 October 2008 Kilmarnock and Loudoun Labour Gordon Brown
Jim Murphy Jim Murphy, April 2009 cropped.jpg 3 October 2008 11 May 2010 East Renfrewshire Labour
Danny Alexander Danny Alexander MP at Bournemouth.jpg 11 May 2010 29 May 2010 Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Liberal Democrats David Cameron
Michael Moore Michael Moore at Birmingham 2011.jpg 29 May 2010 7 October 2013 Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk Liberal Democrats
Alistair Carmichael Official portrait of Mr Alistair Carmichael crop 2.jpg 7 October 2013 8 May 2015 Orkney and Shetland Liberal Democrats
David Mundell Official portrait of David Mundell crop 3.jpg 11 May 2015 Incumbent Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Conservative David Cameron
Theresa May


With the advent of legislative devolution for Scotland in 1999, the role of Secretary of State for Scotland has been diminished, most of the functions vested in the office since administrative devolution in the 19th century were transferred to the newly established Scottish Ministers upon the opening of the Scottish Parliament or otherwise to other UK government ministers.

As a result of this, the office mainly acts as a go-between for the UK and Scottish Governments and Parliaments,[5] however, due to being a minister in the British government the convention of Cabinet collective responsibility applies and as such the post is usually viewed as being a partisan one to promote the UK government's decision making in Scotland, as adherence to the convention precludes doing anything else.

With the rise of the SNP in the Scottish and British parliaments and the resultant interest in Scottish Independence, the Secretary of states role has also subsequently increased in prominence. The Scotland office itself has received a cumulative increase in budget of 20% from 2013 to 2017 with a 14.4% increase in 2015/16 alone.[6] These increases are doubly notable as they took place in a time of national austerity where most other government departments were being cut but also due to the fact that the bulk of the increases came after the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014.

The UK governments website lists the Secretary of State for Scotlands responsibilities as being:

"The main role of the Scottish Secretary is to promote and protect the devolution settlement. Other responsibilities include promoting partnership between the UK government and the Scottish government, and relations between the 2 Parliaments."[5]

This seeming lack of responsibility has in recent years seen calls for the scrapping of the role and the wider department of the Scotland Office itself by opposition MPs.[7][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Secretary for Scotland Act 1885, section 2.
  2. ^ Secretaries of State Act 1926
  3. ^ Secretary for Scotland Act 1885, section 2; Secretaries of State Act 1926, section 1
  4. ^ Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)
  5. ^ a b "Secretary of State for Scotland - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2017-01-16. 
  6. ^ a b "SNP questions budget of 'zombie department' Scotland Office". STV News. Retrieved 2017-01-16. 
  7. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Scrap Scotland Office, SNP urging". Retrieved 2017-01-16. 

External links[edit]