The UK Constitutional Arrangement Starter Task Who is the head of state of the United Kingdom? According to British law, one group of people are never allowed to reign as King or Queen. Which group?
The UK Constitutional Arrangement Answers The Queen – Elizabeth II Roman Catholics (This is the law because of the 1701 Act of Settlement which still applies today)
Today we will… • Outlinethe UK constitutional arrangement • Identifythe different types of government in the UK with a particular focus on Scotland
Structure of Government in the UK • The system of government in the UK is called a “constitutional monarchy” • This is a form of democratic government where the monarch (King or Queen) acts as a non-political head of state • In basic terms, the monarch of the UK (Queen Elizabeth II) “reigns but does not rule”
Structure of Government in the UK • The monarch has some responsibilities such as granting “royal assent” for bills, but such “powers” are just for show…to keep up tradition…a formality • Power to make and change laws lies with the UK Parliament which meets at Westminster and the devolved governments and assemblies of the separate nations of the UK
Structure of Government in the UK • A constitution is defined as a set of rules within which a country is governed • The UK has no formal written constitution • However, it is said to have an “unwritten constitution” with various principles and ideals which are upheld • Essentially, changes to the UK’s “constitution” can be achieved through new Acts of Parliament
Politics in Scotland • Until the late 1990s, laws for the whole of the UK were made solely by the UK central government in Westminster • In 1997, the people of Scotland voted in a referendum on whether or not to have a separate Scottish Parliament which would make laws on devolved Scottish issues – the people of Scotland voted yes • Around the same time, assemblies were created for Wales and Northern Ireland giving these nations some powers to govern themselves
Politics in Scotland • So today, Scotland remains part of the UK but has a degree of self-government • Scotland has the power to make laws on devolved matters such as health and education • However, the UK still has control over reserved issues such as defence and immigration • Laws made in both Parliaments must receive royal assent (as mentioned this is merely a formality)
Overview Queen is head of state Central Government – whole of UK Scottish Parliament – just for Scotland Passes laws on reserved issues – e.g. defence and immigration Passes laws on devolved issues – e.g. health and education Note – Britain (and therefore Scotland) is also part of the European Union (EU) and so the European Parliament can pass laws on Europe-wide issues. For example, the European Parliament recently passed legislation on mobile phone roaming charges.
Party Politics • Britain is a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy • Citizens vote for representatives in their respective areas who will make decisions on their behalf • The Westminster and Scottish Parliaments operate within a system of party politics • Representatives are usually from the major political parties – Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP. Smaller parties such as the Green Party also have representatives
Party Politics • Political parties are organisations whose members share common beliefs about how the country should be run • For example, the Labour Party traditionally represents people from working-class (poorer) backgrounds. Historically, it has favoured high taxes, particularly on the wealthy, and high government spending in areas such as education and the health service. It has in recent years changed its outlook as a result of the rapid growth of the middle class in the UK. • The Conservative Party traditionally represents people from more affluent (richer) backgrounds. It tends to argue for lower taxes on citizens and lower public spending, arguing that individuals should take more responsibility for looking after themselves.
Elections • Elections for the UK Parliament take place every 4-5 years • Elections for the Scottish Parliament take place every 4 years • Citizens aged 18 and over vote for candidates in their area. • These candidates will usually be members of the major political parties although some may be independent candidates who are not attached to any party • Victorious candidates become representatives (MPs or MSPs) • The political party which achieves the most representatives will generally form the Government (UK government for whole of UK and Scottish Government for Scotland) and the leader of that party will become the Prime Minister (UK) or First Minister (Scotland)
To sum up… • The Queen is the head of state for the UK but has no real power to rule • The UK Government based in Westminster governs the whole of the UK although in 1999 certain devolved powers were given to the new Scottish Parliament, enabling it to govern Scotland • However, the UK Government maintains some reserved powers • The European Parliament also makes some laws on Europe-wide issues • The UK is a representative democracy • Most representatives are members of political parties • The party which gains the most representatives forms the Government • The leader of the party with the most representatives becomes the Prime Minister or First Minister