Scotland is subject to the administration of both the UK Government in Westminster and the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.
The UK Government has responsibility for issues such as constitutional matters, foreign policy and defence, whereas the remit of the Scottish Government includes matters such as health, education and law.
Scotland is divided into 32 council areas, which in turn are subdivided into electoral wards and communities.
Scotland's geographical structure
- Council areas (S12)
– Electoral wards (S13)
The 1994 Local Government (Scotland) Act led to the abolition of the existing structure of 9 regions and 53 districts, although the three island councils remained.
Since April 1996, Scotland has been divided into 32 council areas, whose councils are unitary administrations with responsibility for all areas of local government.
Council areas are built from electoral wards and are also divided into communities.
You can download a wide range of maps, including counties, council areas and unitary authorities from the Open Geography portal.Back to table of contents
Electoral wards and electoral divisions are the key building blocks of UK administrative geography. They are the spatial units used to elect local government councillors in council areas in Scotland.
Electoral wards are found in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and most of England.
They are also used to constitute a range of other geographies such as the health geographies and Westminster parliamentary constituencies.
English local authority districts (LAD) (both metropolitan and non-metropolitan), London boroughs and unitary authorities average around 23 electoral wards and electoral divisions each, Northern Irish local government districts around 42, Scottish council areas around 11, and Welsh unitary authorities about 40.
Population counts can vary substantially, even within a single LAD, but the national average is about 7,900. As at 2021, there are around 15,500 residents in each ward in Scotland.
More populous electoral wards and electoral divisions tend to occur in large urban areas.
Electoral ward and electoral division boundary changes are usually enacted on the first Thursday in May each year, to coincide with the local government elections.
As of 5 May 2022, the UK has 8,483 electoral wards and electoral divisions and there are 355 wards in Scotland.Back to table of contents
Scotland also has communities but their councils are generally a channel of opinion to other authorities rather than an administration in their own right.
All of Scotland has had communities delineated, which fit into and change with council areas. However, community councils (CC) are not statutory and only exist if volunteers are willing to run them. In consequence there are approximately 1,200 such councils, which can represent either single delineated communities or groups of them. There are also nearly 200 communities, mostly in the larger cities, which have no council.
The principal role of CCs is to act as a channel for the views of local communities. They have a legal right to be notified of and respond to planning applications and can be involved in a range of activities, mostly related to local infrastructure and community events (eg playgrounds, bus shelters, village halls, footpaths, flower beds, Christmas celebrations). Not all CCs participate, however, and those that do have to rely on voluntary work and fund-raising; many receive council area funding for running costs only. CCs can however obtain grants for specific schemes.
In fact, although some are supportive, many council areas tend to disregard their CCs and do not consider them to be a tier of government, even though they legally can have that role. It is only in Na h-Eileanan Siar, Orkney and especially in Shetland that CCs are viewed as an important tier in the administrative structure and have a correspondingly larger budget. Scotland's network of parishes was abolished for administrative purposes in 1973, when CCs were initiated. Unlike in Wales, these new CCs were not necessarily based on old parish areas. As indicated, CCs fit inside council area boundaries, whereas the old parish geography no longer corresponds with any modern administrative pattern.Back to table of contents