Scottish Office

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The Scottish Office was a department of the British Government from 1885 until 1999, exercising a wide range of government functions in relation to Scotland under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, most of its work was transferred to the newly established Scottish Executive, (now known as the Scottish Government) with a small residue of functions retained by the Scotland Office.


Following the Act of Union 1707 and the abolition of the old Scottish Parliament, the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was established within the government of Great Britain. The Secretary of State was entrusted with general responsibility for the government of Scotland, with the Lord Advocate acting as chief law officer in Scotland. The post of Secretary of State for Scotland was abolished in 1746, and the Lord Advocate assumed responsibility for government business in Scotland. In 1828 the Home Secretary was formally put "in charge of Scotland", but the Lord Advocate continued to be the voice of Scotland in the government and took the lead in Scottish debates.

During the nineteenth century, the functions of government increased, particularly at a local level dealing with issues such as public health, poor law relief, roads and education, and local authorities were active in providing water supplies, drainage, hospitals and town planning. To exercise control over these local activities, a number of supervisory boards such as the Board of Supervision for Poor Relief (1845 - 1894), the General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy (1857 - 1913) and the Scotch Education Department (a committee of the Privy Council) were established. However the accountability of these Boards was not clear, they were staffed by amateurs and they increased the scope for government patronage. In 1869 Scottish MPs asked Gladstone to appoint a Scottish Secretary with responsibility for the boards, but the post of Secretary for Scotland, and with it the Scottish Office, were not created until 1885.


The post of Secretary for Scotland was established in 1885. From 1892 the holder sat in Cabinet and in 1926 the post was elevated to the rank of Principal Secretary of State and retitled Secretary of State for Scotland. The addition of responsibility for health functions in 1919 resulted in the creation of a junior ministerial post, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland, which in turn became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.

Additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary posts were added in 1940 and 1951 and a Minister of State post was established in 1951. In 1969-70 one of the Under-Secretary posts was replaced by an additional Minister of State. From 1974 to 1979 there were two Ministers of State and three Under-Secretaries, reverting to one Minister of State in 1979.

Current Ministers

Special Advisers


Secretaries of State for Scotland

The post of Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland was held ex officio by Secretaries of State for Scotland from 1926-1999 only; so Secretaries of State for Scotland after Donald Dewar were/are not Keepers of the Great Seal, that post now being held by the First Ministers of Scotland. 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.

PR and communications people

Maureen Ferrier |

See also

Scottish Executive | Scottish Government | Scotland Office | Scottish Parliament


  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)