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Review of Scottish Parliament constituencies 

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On 1 September 2022 Boundaries Scotland commenced its second review of Scottish Parliament constituencies.  

This blog considers the purpose of reviewing the constituencies of the Scottish Parliament, explains the role of Boundaries Scotland and looks at how reviews of constituencies are undertaken. 

Why are constituency reviews carried out? 

The Electoral Register is constantly changing as people become eligible to join the electoral register and leave it. As places develop and people move between areas, the electorate (the number of people entitled to vote) in any given place also changes. If left unchecked this would create an unbalanced and unfair system of representation. Reviews then take into account development and migration in order to keep constituencies broadly similar in size (by electorate).  

Reviews also allow the boundaries of constituencies to change in order to recognise new community and administrative boundaries.   

Simply put, the purpose of reviews of constituency boundaries are twofold. They make sure that: 

  • each MSP is elected by broadly the same number of electors 
  • constituencies reflect people’s general understanding of their community.  

In turn then, reviews ensure democratic integrity and fairness in Scotland’s electoral system and facilitate effective representation. 

Below is an interactive map of Scottish Parliament constituencies at present.

Boundaries Scotland

Under the Scotland Act 1998 Boundaries Scotland is responsible for undertaking reviews of Scottish Parliament constituencies and making recommendations on any changes to constituencies and regions. 

Boundaries Scotland is a statutory advisory non-departmental public body. It is independent of Scottish Government and local government. Similarly, Boundaries Scotland is independent of political parties, community and individual interests. There is no consideration of political outcomes in the work of Boundaries Scotland. 

Up until 2020 Boundaries Scotland was called the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. The change of the Commission’s name to Boundaries Scotland was the result of the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020. The change was to reflect the role of the Commission in Scottish Parliament elections resulting from the Scotland Act 2016.  

Scottish Parliament constituencies and reviews of constituency boundaries  

The Scotland Act 1998 sets out that there are to be 73 constituencies for the Parliament. In addition to the 73 constituencies, there are eight regions for the Scottish Parliament.  

At general elections to the Scottish Parliament a member is returned for each constituency. In addition, seven members are returned for each region. In total this means that 129 MSPs are elected. 

A constituency review cannot create new constituencies or increase the number of MSPs.  

Schedule 1 (paragraph 3(5)) to the Scotland Act 1998 requires that reviews of the constituencies are carried out every eight to twelve years.  

Detail of the requirements of a review, including the processes to be followed are also set out in Schedule 1 to the Scotland Act 1998. These processes include the requirements for publication of draft proposals and consultation on them. 

Schedule 1 to the Scotland Act 1998 also sets out ‘The Constituency Rules’ and ‘The Region Rules’. These Rules set out specific requirements that any new proposals for constituencies or regions must comply with.  

There are four constituency rules which can broadly be summarised as: 

Rule 1 

So far as is practicable, regard must be had to the boundaries of the local government areas. 

Rule 2 

The electorate of a constituency must be as near the electoral quota as is practicable, having regard to Rule 1. 

Boundaries Scotland may depart from the strict application of Rule 1 if it thinks that it is desirable to do so to avoid an excessive disparity between the electorate of a constituency and the electoral quota or between the electorate of a constituency and that of neighbouring constituencies. 

Rule 3 

Boundaries Scotland may depart from the strict application of Rules 1 and 2 if  it thinks that special geographical considerations (including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency) render it desirable to do so. 

Rule 4 

Boundaries Scotland need not aim at giving full effect in all circumstances to Rules 1 to 3 but it must take account (so far as it reasonably can) –  

  • of the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies other than alterations made for the purposes of Rule 1, and 
  • of any local ties which would be broken by such alterations. 

There are two regional rules.

Rule 1 

A constituency must fall wholly within a region. 

Rule 2 

The regional electorate of a region must be as near the regional electorate of each of the other regions as is practicable, having regard (where appropriate) to special geographical considerations. 

The first review of Scottish Parliament constituencies 

Initially, Scottish Parliament constituencies were based on the constituencies for the UK Parliament. The exception being the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands which are one constituency at the UK Parliament but two at the Scottish Parliament (this is provided for in the Scotland Act 1998).  

The First Review reported in 2010. It was undertaken by the Boundary Commission for Scotland which reported to the UK Parliament.  

The boundaries recommended in the first review are, for the most part, the current boundaries (two interim reviews which took place in 2013 and 2020 altered slightly boundaries at Robroyston and Cardowan by Stepps). These constituency boundaries were used in the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011, 2016 and 2021.

The Scotland Act 2016

The Scotland Act 2016 devolved competence over Scottish Parliament elections to the Scottish Parliament, this included responsibility for the Parliament’s constituencies and reviews of those constituencies. Responsibility for reviews of Scottish Parliament constituencies was delegated under the 2016 Act to Boundaries Scotland (then called the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland). 

As such, the second review is the first time that Boundaries Scotland has carried out a review of the Scottish Parliament’s constituencies. It is also the first time that the Parliament and MSPs have the responsibility to approve the boundaries of the constituencies and regions from which they are elected. 

The Second review of Scottish Parliament constituencies 

The second review commenced on 1 September 2022 and must be complete by 1 May 2025. Any new constituency boundaries will be used for the next Scottish Parliament scheduled general election in May 2026.  

The review will cover the 70 mainland constituencies. The island constituencies of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands are excluded from the constituency review as provided for in the Scotland Act 1998.  

All 73 constituencies will, however, be included in the review of the regions. 

A Boundaries Scotland news release at the start of the review states: 

“Since the last review which reported in 2010 there has been significant change to the electorate, including the extension of the franchise for Scottish Parliamentary elections to those 16 and over. Changes to the population and the electorate have varied across Scotland, with some areas experiencing significant increases and others remaining relatively unchanged or falling. Even areas which have not experienced population growth or reduction may find that the constituency boundaries alter as a result of change required elsewhere to ensure that all constituencies and regions are of a similar electoral size.”

The Scottish Parliament decides whether to accept or reject the recommendations of Boundaries Scotland. This is a result of the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020 which changed the approval process for Scottish Parliament constituency reviews by giving the Parliament rather than Scottish Ministers the power to accept or reject proposals put forward by Boundaries Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is also able to request further review by Boundaries Scotland if it does reject its proposals.  

Next steps

Boundaries Scotland expects to publish its provisional proposals on Scottish Parliament constituencies- in spring 2023. These will then be consulted on before final recommendations are made.  

Boundaries Scotland must consult for a period of a month each time it proposes to amend a constituency boundary.  

Consultation on Scottish Parliament regions will take place separately at a later date. 

Sarah McKay, SPICe research