Accountability: In Constitutional terms this means the concept of responsibility of either executive government or of the judiciary for their acts and omissions. In electoral terms this is taken to mean accountability to voters but the executive is also accountable to Parliament and the judiciary is subject to control by the Legal Services Ombudsman.
Act of Parliament: A law passed as primary legislation by Parliament.
Advocate General: The office of the Advocate General is the UK government’s Scottish legal team, providing legal advice, drafting and litigation services to the UK government in relation to Scotland.
Bill: A draft Act of Parliament is known as a Bill. Most Bills are introduced into parliament by the government but a Bill may also be introduced as a private member’s Bill.
By-election: An election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between general elections.
Cabinet: The committee of senior government ministers at the heart of the executive government and the supreme decision-maker in government. In Scotland the senior ministers within the cabinet are termed cabinet secretaries.
Cabinet Secretary: Cabinet Secretary is the title held by members of the Scottish Cabinet who hold individual portfolios and are appointed by the First Minister.
The Civil Service works for the government of the day, and is responsible for the practical management and monitoring of government legislation passed into law. It also reports to government on the effect of such legislation and provides statistical and other information and opinion asked for by government for the creation of proposed new legislation. In other words it runs the country!
Codification: The action or process of arranging laws or rules according to a centralised statutory form.
Commission: A group of people entrusted by government or other official body with authority to do something.
Constitution: A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state is governed. When these principles are written down in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a codified written constitution.
Constitution Amendment: A constitutional amendment refers to the modification of the constitution of the state. Most constitutions require that amendments cannot be enacted unless they have passed a special procedure that is more stringent than that required of ordinary legislation.
Convention: A large gathering of people who share a common interest to achieve a way in which something is done.
Constituency: An electoral area whose voters elect a representative/s to a legislative body.
Constitutionality: Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with the laws or guidelines as set out in a constitution.
Declaration: A legal remedy whereby a court states (declares) what the law is.
Democracy: A system of government in which citizens govern through elected representatives of the people. Representative democracy is a system where citizens elect individuals to represent them in government. Representative democracy underpinned by constitutional sovereignty is a system where the power is conferred by the people as opposed to being imposed on the people.
Devolution: The granting of power by central government to government at a local level.
Election: An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. In representative democracies, elections are the process, which enables citizens to choose representatives for public office.
Elected Representatives: Individuals chosen by voters in an election to represent in government the interests of the voters.
Executive: A constitutional part of government that is responsible for the daily administration of the state.
Executive Power: The power to enforce executive orders as intended and given, authorised by law.
Emergency Powers: Powers of central government to act outside its normal powers in an emergency such as war or a major natural disaster.
Elective Dictatorship: A graphic phrase used by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham to describe the dominance of the executive over Parliament reflecting the fact that once elected on a general political manifesto the government of the day will usually be able to pass whatever legislation it wishes.
First Minister: The First Minister is head of the Scottish Government and is ultimately responsible for all policy and decisions.
Fundamental Principles: Basic principles or laws from which other laws can be derived.
Fusion of Powers: In the unwritten United Kingdom constitution one arm of the government-the executive-is selected from another arm-the legislature (Parliament) and so instead of being separated they were inextricably fused.
Government: The body of elected persons with the power to control the affairs of a country or state. The current Scottish Government consists of one First Minister, nine cabinet secretaries and fifteen other ministers.
Head of State: A head of state is the public persona that officially represents the national unity and legitimacy of a sovereign state. Depending on the country’s form of government and separation of powers, the head of state may be a ceremonial figurehead or concurrently the head of government.
Integrity: Integrity is the qualification of being honest and having strong moral principles. In ethics, when discussing behaviour and morality, integrity is derived from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such a person has integrity to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.
Judiciary: The system of judges and courts charged with interpreting and applying the law.
Judicial Independence: Judicial independence is the concept that the judiciary should be free from interference by the other branches of government or from private or partisan interests.
Legislature: A deliberative body of elected persons, who are empowered to make, change, or repeal the laws of the state. Laws enacted by legislatures are known as legislation. Legislatures are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government. Names for legislatures include “parliament” or “assembly”.
Legislation: Laws passed by a legislature or other governing body. Primary legislation is law passed by Parliament in the form of an Act of Parliament. Prior to being enacted the draft law is called a Bill. Secondary Legislation, sometimes called subordinate or delegated legislation, is law made under the authority contained in primary legislation. Primary legislation generally sets out broad outlines and principles, but delegates specific authority to an executive branch to issue secondary legislation creating legally enforceable regulations and the procedures for implementing them.
Law: Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. A distinction can be made tween (a) civil law jurisdictions, in which a legislature codifies and consolidates their laws, and (b) common law systems, where judge-made precedent is accepted as binding law.
Lord Advocate: The Lord Advocate is the chief legal officer of the Scottish Government and the Crown in Scotland for both civil and criminal matters. He or she is the chief public prosecutor for Scotland and all prosecutions on indictment are conducted nominally in the Lord Advocate’s name.
Member of Parliament: A Member of Parliament is the representative of the voters to a parliament.
Nation: Is a cultural-political community, residing within a defined territory, that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity and particular interests.
Oversight: When someone has oversight of a process or system, they are responsible for making sure that it works efficiently and correctly.
Parliament: In modern politics, a parliament is a legislative, elected body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: representing the electorate, making laws and overseeing the government via hearings and inquiries.
Preamble: An introductory or explanatory statement in a document such as a Constitution that explains the document’s purpose and underlying philosophy.
Prerogative Power: The special power or peculiar right possessed by an official by virtue of his or her office, that is unaffected by any other power. The powers are non-statutory and many are outside the control of the courts. Many of the prerogative powers of the monarch have been delegated to the central government, but are still exercised on a non-statutory basis. It is considered that all prerogative powers should be placed on a statutory footing and brought within the control of the courts.
Private Member’s Bill: A Bill (proposed law) introduced into the legislature by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the executive branch (government).
Political Party: A group of people who come together to contest elections to attain and maintain political power in government consistently with a published political manifesto.
Proportional Representation (PR): An electoral system designed to ensure a close approximation between the percentage of votes cast and the number of seats allocated
Recall: Ultimately, a means of removing an elected representative from office following failure to properly represent the views of a specified proportion of the electorate.
Referendum: a vote by the electorate on a specific proposal, usually of a significant or constitutional nature. Sometimes called a plebiscite.
Responsibility: Responsibility is the obligations, whether legal or moral, owed by citizens to each other or to the state.
Rule of Law: A principal that all are subject to the law and that the law is publically published and publically administered in the courts.
State: A state is an organised political body that exercises control over a particular area. States may or may not be sovereign.
Statutory Law: Statutory law is written law set down by a body of legislature. Statutes may originate with national, regional assemblies or local municipalities.
Sovereignty: Government free from external political and financial control.
Constitutional Sovereignty: Under constitutional sovereignty, the legitimacy of a government is determined by the consent of the people in a codified written Constitution. The authority of Parliament is derived from the constitution and if a passed law is deemed to be in contrast with any provision in the constitution then it could be taken to court and challenged as unconstitutional. Constitutional sovereignty is the antithesis of parliamentary sovereignty, which is derived from the claims of the English Parliament as reflected in the Bill of Rights 1689 (pre 1707 Treaty of Union).
Parliamentary Sovereignty: A constitutional doctrine that holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all other government institutions, including executive and judicial bodies. It also holds that the legislative body may change or repeal any previous legislation and so it is not bound by written law or by precedent. It has also been taken to mean that the validity of Acts of Parliament cannot be challenged in the domestic courts. The origins of the doctrine are obscure.
Single Transferable Vote: A system of proportional representation used in multi-member constituencies in which voters have only one vote but can rank the candidates in order of preference.
Separation of Powers: The constitutional doctrine that divides governmental power into separate organs (branches) of state so that no one branch acquires a monopoly of power over another, normally the executive, legislature and judiciary. In the UK there is a fused system in which the executive and legislative branches of government are not truly separated and in which, the central government (the executive) dominates the legislature.
Statutory Instrument: The main form in which secondary legislation is made in the UK.
Unconstitutionality: Being in violation of the requirements of the Constitution of the state.
Unicameral Legislature: A legislative assembly with only a single chamber - i.e. no secondary Senate or Consultative 'House'.
Whip: A whip is an official of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline. A role in party politics designed to ensure control over attendance at votes and compliance with the wishes of the party as to the vote cast on pain of sanction.