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
David Mundell UK Gov.jpg
David Mundell

since 8 May 2015
Scotland Office
Style The Right Honourable
Appointer Elizabeth II
Inaugural holder The Earl of Mar
Formation 3 February 1705
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. He heads the Scotland Office (formerly the Scottish Office), a government department based in London and Edinburgh. The post was created soon after the Union of the Crowns,[citation needed] but was abolished in 1746, following the Jacobite rebellion. 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 (though not always) in the Cabinet; in 1926 this post was upgraded to a full Secretary of State appointment.

The 1999 Scottish devolution has meant the Scottish Office's powers were divided, with most transferred to the Scottish Government or to other UK 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 an independent Scotland since 1705. Following the Acts of Union 1707, he remained in office.

The post of Secretary of State for Scotland existed briefly 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. 1885 saw the creation of the Scottish Office and the post of Secretary for Scotland.[1] From 1892 the Secretary for Scotland sat in cabinet, the Secretary for Scotland post was upgraded to full Secretary of State rank as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.[2] All Secretaries for Scotland also held the post of Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, ex officio.[3]

The post of Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland was held ex officio by Secretaries of State for Scotland from 1926 to 1999.[4] Secretaries of State for Scotland since Donald Dewar have not been Keepers of the Great Seal, that post now being held by the First Ministers of Scotland;[5] in addition, the holder of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland from 13 June 2003 through to 3 October 2008 concurrently held another Cabinet post, 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   National Liberal   Liberal Democrats   No party

Secretaries for Scotland (1885–1926)[edit]

Name Portrait Term of office 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 Conservative The Marquess of Salisbury
George Trevelyan Sir G O Trevelyan, 2nd Bt NPG.jpg 8 February 1886 March, 1886
Liberal William Ewart Gladstone
The Earl of Dalhousie 13thEarlOfDalhousie.jpg 5 April 1886 20 July 1886 Liberal
Arthur Balfour Arthur Balfour, photo portrait facing left.jpg 5 August 1886 11 March 1887 Conservative The Marquess of Salisbury
The Marquess of Lothian 9thMarquessOfLothian.jpg 11 March 1887 11 August 1892 Conservative
Sir George Trevelyan, Bt Sir G O Trevelyan, 2nd Bt NPG.jpg 18 August 1892 21 June 1895 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
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 Conservative
The Marquess of Linlithgow Hopetoun.jpg 2 February 1905 4 December 1905 Conservative
John Sinclair
(Baron Pentland from 1909)
John Sinclair MP.jpg 10 December 1905 13 February 1912 Liberal Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
H. H. Asquith
Thomas McKinnon Wood Thomas McKinnon Wood.jpg 13 February 1912 9 July 1916 Liberal
H. H. Asquith
Harold Tennant Harold J. Tennant o.jpg 9 July 1916 5 December 1916 Liberal
Robert Munro 1922 Robert Munro.jpg 10 December 1916 19 October 1922 Liberal David Lloyd George
The Viscount Novar Ac.munroferguson.jpg 24 October 1922 22 January 1924 none Bonar Law
Stanley Baldwin
William Adamson William Adamson.jpg 22 January 1924 3 November 1924 Labour Ramsay MacDonald
Sir John Gilmour, Bt SirJohnGilmour.jpg 6 November 1924 26 July 1926 Unionist Stanley Baldwin

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

Name Portrait Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Sir John Gilmour, Bt SirJohnGilmour.jpg 15 July 1926 4 June 1929 Unionist Stanley Baldwin
William Adamson William Adamson.jpg 7 June 1929 24 August 1931 Labour Ramsay MacDonald
Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt The Air Ministry, 1939-1945. CH10270.jpg 25 August 1931 28 September 1932
Liberal Ramsay MacDonald
(1st & 2nd National Min.)
Sir Godfrey Collins Sir Godfrey Collins.jpg 28 September 1932 29 October 1936 Liberal National
Stanley Baldwin
(3rd National Min.)
Walter Elliot 29 October 1936 6 May 1938 Unionist
Neville Chamberlain
(4th National Min.;
War Coalition)
John Colville No image.svg 6 May 1938 10 May 1940 Unionist
Ernest Brown 14 May 1940 8 February 1941 Liberal National Winston Churchill
(War Coalition)
Thomas Johnston No image.svg 8 February 1941 23 May 1945 Labour
The Earl of Rosebery Lord Dalmeny Vanity Fair 1904-09-22.jpeg 25 May 1945 26 July 1945 Liberal National Winston Churchill
(Caretaker Min.)
Joseph Westwood No image.svg 3 August 1945 7 October 1947 Labour Clement Attlee
Arthur Woodburn No image.svg 7 October 1947 28 February 1950 Labour
Hector McNeil No image.svg 28 February 1950 26 October 1951 Labour
James Stuart No image.svg 30 October 1951 13 January 1957 Unionist Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Anthony Eden
John Maclay No image.svg 13 January 1957 13 July 1962 Unionist Harold Macmillan
Michael Noble No image.svg 13 July 1962 16 October 1964 Unionist
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Willie Ross No image.svg 18 October 1964 19 June 1970 Labour Harold Wilson
Gordon Campbell No image.svg 20 June 1970 4 March 1974 Conservative and Unionist Edward Heath
Willie Ross No image.svg 5 March 1974 8 April 1976 Labour Harold Wilson
Bruce Millan No image.svg 8 April 1976 4 May 1979 Labour James Callaghan
George Younger George Younger.JPEG 5 May 1979 11 January 1986 Conservative and Unionist Margaret Thatcher
Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind.jpg 11 January 1986 28 November 1990 Conservative and Unionist
Ian Lang No image.svg 28 November 1990 5 July 1995 Conservative and Unionist John Major
Michael Forsyth No image.svg 5 July 1995 2 May 1997 Conservative and Unionist
Donald Dewar Donald Dewar.jpg 3 May 1997 17 May 1999
First Minister of Scotland)
Labour Tony Blair
John Reid ReidTaormina crop.jpg 17 May 1999 25 January 2001 Labour
Helen Liddell No image.svg 25 January 2001 13 June 2003 Labour
Alistair Darling
(also Secretary of State for Transport)
AlistairDarlingABr cropped.jpg 13 June 2003 5 May 2006 Labour
Douglas Alexander
(also Secretary of State for Transport)
Douglas Alexander at the India Economic Summit 2008.jpg 5 May 2006 27 June 2007 Labour
Des Browne
(also Secretary of State for Defence)
Des Browne 070114-D-7203T-010.jpg 28 June 2007 3 October 2008 Labour Gordon Brown
Jim Murphy Jim Murphy, April 2009 cropped.jpg 3 October 2008 11 May 2010 Labour
Danny Alexander Danny Alexander MP at Bournemouth.jpg 11 May 2010 29 May 2010 Liberal Democrats David Cameron
Michael Moore Michael Moore at Birmingham 2011.jpg 29 May 2010 7 October 2013 Liberal Democrats
Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael MP at Bournemouth 2009.jpg 7 October 2013 8 May 2015 Liberal Democrats
David Mundell David Mundell UK Gov.jpg 11 May 2015 Incumbent 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 between the UK and Scottish Governments and Parliaments,[6] 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.[7] 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."[6]

This seeming lack of responsibility has in recent years seen calls for the scrapping of the role and the wider department of the Scottish office itself by opposition MP's.[8][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Secretary for Scotland Act 1885, section 2.
  2. ^ Secretaries of State Act 1926
  3. ^ Secretary for Scotland Act 1885, section 8
  4. ^ Secretary for Scotland Act 1885, section 2; Secretaries of State Act 1926, section 1
  5. ^ Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)
  6. ^ a b "Secretary of State for Scotland - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2017-01-16. 
  7. ^ a b "SNP questions budget of 'zombie department' Scotland Office". STV News. Retrieved 2017-01-16. 
  8. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Scrap Scotland Office, SNP urging". Retrieved 2017-01-16. 

External links[edit]