Section 1 - The UK Political system
What I will learn
- The structure of the political system in the UK
- The relationship between each part
The UK is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. The Queen is head of
state to the peoples of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and to the peoples
of the 15 realms of the Commonwealth. In 2012, the Queen celebrated her diamond jubilee,
commemorating 60 years on the British throne.
A CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCH
PRIME MINISTER AND
NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN
The UK Government is directly accountable to Parliament – the Governing party (or parties)
in power because it has a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and at any time the
Government can be dismissed by the Commons through a vote of ‘no confidence’. This seldom
happens and last occurred in 1979 when the Labour Government of James Callaghan was
dismissed by the House of Commons. Members of the Government are also members of
Parliament and this fusion of powers usually ensures the UK executive (government)
dominates the legislature (parliament).
In a Democracy citizens participate by electing individuals to represent their views and make
decisions. If we do not approve of their actions we simply vote for a different candidate, at
the next election. Our preferred candidate may not be elected but we must accept the
In Scotland we elect a number of different representatives. At the local level we elect 1223
local councillors every four years to represent us and administer the local council for the
area we live in. Local councillors make decisions about the provision of services such as
education, housing, roads and refuse collection.
Since 1999 we now have a Scottish Parliament and we elect 129 Members of the Scottish
Parliament (MSPs) and a Scottish Government every four years to be responsible for the
devolved powers given by the UK Parliament. Some of these devolved powers concern
education, health care and law and order(more on these powers later). The UK Government
decides each year how much money it will give to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish
Government can decide how it wishes to spend the money.
At least once every five years we take part in a UK General election, which is held
throughout the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to elect
650 Members of Parliament (MPs) and a UK Government. The House of Commons the UK
Government make decisions on reserved powers such as the economy, taxation, foreign
affairs and defence.
Finally, Scottish voters, as part of the United Kingdom, choose every five years our six
Members of The European Parliament (MEPs) In the 2009 European elections the citizens
of the European Union elected 736, MEPs.
Devolution and Scotland’s future
This is an exciting time to be studying Scotland and its place in the UK Political system. The
SNP majority Scottish Government is holding a referendum on the 18th September 2014 to
ask the Scottish people if they wish to have independence and leave the UK Political system.
The Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties will all campaign against
A referendum (the plural is referenda) is a ballot in which voters, not their representatives
in Parliament, pass judgement on a particular issue. It is a form of direct democracy because
it involves citizens directly in decision making. A referendum can resolve important
constitutional affairs or divisions within the Government or among the public. In May 2011,
the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government held a referendum on electoral reform. The
proposal to end the First Past the Post (FPTP) system of electing representatives and to
replace it with the Alternative Vote (AV) was defeated by a vote of 67.9% (no) to 32.1%
Critics of referenda argue that they undermine our UK system of representative democracy.
We should allow our elected representatives to make the decisions on our behalf. They also
point out that if there is a low turnout, the outcome may be decided by a small section of the
community: for example, only 34.1% of the London electorate turned out to vote in the 1998
referendum on having a Mayor of London.
Recent UK referenda results
London Mayor (1998) 34.1
What is meant by “Representative Democracy”?
Produce a spider diagram showing the representatives we can vote for in Scotland.
Include the number of each representative.
What is a REFERENDUM?
Give 2 examples of recent referenda and for each one state the outcome of the vote.
Explain ONE strength and ONE criticism of using Referenda.
Answer in 2 PEEL paragraphs.
What is the date of the next planned referendum in Scotland? What will the issue of
the referendum be?