Political parties in Scotland
What you will learn
- What political parties are
- Who the main political parties in Scotland are
- The differences between the main political parties in Scotland
What is a political party?
A political party is an organisation made up of people who share similar political beliefs and
opinions. A political party ultimately aims to get elected by winning as many seats as possible
in Parliament. The more seats that a political party wins, the more influence it can exert over
the running of the country. In Scotland there are four main political parties. Three of these
parties mirror the three main parties active across the UK: Labour, Conservative and Liberal
Democrat. The fourth party is the Scottish National Party (SNP). There are also numerous
smaller parties in Scotland such as the Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party.
There are 129 available seats for the Scottish Parliament. In 2011, the SNP won 69 of the
seats, creating the first majority government in Scottish Parliament history. Therefore the
SNP currently holds political power in Scotland. The leader of the party that holds political
power is called the First Minister.
Political parties continuously try to win support among the general public so that when an
election comes round they have a good chance of achieving votes. This can be very expensive
and this is one reason why most MSPs are members of a political party rather than
It is very important to political parties that they have a positive public image and a likeable
party leader. If the public do not like a party leader, support for the party will drop. In 2011,
the Scottish Labour Party suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the SNP. Many people
attributed this loss to the party leader, Iain Gray, whose public image was less than
election results 2011
What are the differences between the political parties?
Political parties have their own visions and plans for how they think the country should be
run. These plans can be listed under key policy areas such as education, environment, justice,
economy and health. Before an election, each political party publishes a document outlining
its policies, known as a party manifesto. Each party’s manifesto is unique, and one party’s
vision and plans can differ quite remarkably from another’s. The Fact file on each political
party tells you a little about each party and some of the policies it believes will make
Scotland a better country.
The Scottish National Party
The SNP’s popularity in Scotland has
increased considerably in the last decade.
In Alex Salmond it has a leader who has
guided the party to its most successful
spell in its history. The party has
campaigned for Scottish independence for
seven decades and is currently running the
‘Yes’ campaign in preparation for the 2014
independence referendum. The SNP holds
power in Scotland and it also holds six seats
in Westminster. Generally speaking, the
SNP is supported by all factions and classes
of Scottish society. However, as the SNP
prepares for the referendum, party leaders
are reviewing their policy towards NATO,
the military alliance of USA and European
Continue to campaign for Scottish
Will not introduce tuition fees or
top-up fees for colleges or
Make Scotland a world leader in
Introduce a minimum pricing for
No more nuclear – oppose nuclear
The Labour Party
The Labour Party, known in Scotland as
Scottish Labour, is led by Johann Lamont.
Labour has traditionally been a popular
party in Scotland with strong support,
especially among the working class.
However, in 2007, Labour lost control of
the Scottish Parliament, and the Party
performed even worse in the 2011 Scottish
election, winning only 37 seats. The party
has strong links to trade unions, who
influence many of their policies.
Keep Scotland part of the UK.
Introduce fees of some sort for
university students, arguing that
places are lost to paying foreign
Prioritise the creation of green jobs,
aiming for up to 60,000 by 2015.
Protect NHS jobs, with no
compulsory redundancies for NSH
Offer a modern apprenticeship to
every 16-18 year-old who wants one
The Conservative Party
The Scottish Conservatives are led by Ruth
Davidson and the UK party is led by Prime
Minister David Cameron. In the 2010 UK
election the Conservatives managed to win
enough seats to enter a coalition with the
Liberal Democrats. However, in Scotland
the Scottish Conservatives have not been
so successful and they only won 15 seats in
the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. The
Conservatives struggle in Scotland and have
limited support among the Scottish people.
This is mainly because of the unpopular
Conservative government of the 1980’s led
by Margaret Thatcher. The support the
Conservatives do have in Scotland generally
comes from the middle and upper classes.
Keep Scotland as part of the UK.
Give head teachers more power over
discipline policy, staff recruitment
Introduce tougher jail sentences and
end automatic early release from
Introduce free, universal health
checks for those aged between 40
End Scottish government policy
against nuclear power – consider new
The Scottish Liberal Democrats are now
one of the three state parties within the
federal Liberal Democrats; the others
being the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the
Liberal Democrats in England. The Scottish
Liberal Democrats hold 5 out of 129 seats
in the Scottish Parliament, 11 of the 59
Scottish seats in the UK Parliament, 1 of 6
Scottish seats in the European Parliament.
They are led by Willie Rennie MSP who shot
to prominence in the Dunfermline and West
Fife by-election in 2006, taking the seat
from Labour with a swing on 16%.
Keep Scotland as part of the UK but
plan for more powers for the
Scottish Parliament including
significant control over tax levers.
Keep education free, with no tuition
fees and no graduate contribution.
Protect college funding.
Support early intervention work,
especially in education with free
childcare for 40% of 2 year olds
which would help children from the
most deprived background get the
best start in life.
Support sustainable transport and
focus on getting faster and cheaper
trains to all parts of Scotland.
1. What is a political party?
2. Name the four main political parties in Scotland and name their leaders.
3. Which party is in power in Scotland?
4. Why is it important that a party has a likeable leader?
5. What is a party manifesto?
6. Study the Scottish political party fact files.
b. Do any parties have similar policies? If so, name them.
c. How many seats did each party win in the 2011 Scottish election?