Subdivisions of Scotland

For local government purposes, Scotland is divided into 32 areas designated as "council areas" (Scottish Gaelic: comhairlean), which are all governed by single-tier authorities[1] designated as "councils". They have the option under the Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997[2] of being known (but not re-designated) as a "comhairle" when opting for a Gaelic name; only Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Council of the Western Isles) has chosen this option, whereas the Highland Council (Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd) has adopted its Gaelic form alongside its English equivalent informally.

Councils of Scotland
CategoryAdministrative unit
Number32 Councils
Populations21,400 (Orkney Islands) – 593,200 (Glasgow)
Areas21 square miles (54 km2) (Dundee) - 11,838 square miles (30,660 km2) (Highland)
  • Council government
  • None

The council areas have been in existence since 1 April 1996, under the provisions of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994. Historically, Scotland was divided into 34 counties or shires. Although these no longer have any administrative function, they are still used to some extent in Scotland for cultural and geographical purposes, and some of the current council areas are named after them. There are also a number of other administrative divisions, some of which are handled by joint boards of the councils.

At the most local level Scotland is divided into civil parishes, which are now used only for statistical purposes such as the census. The lowest level of administrative subdivision are the communities, which may elect community councils.

History of the subdivisions of Scotland

Traditionally burghs have been the key unit of the local government of Scotland, being highly autonomous entities, with rights to representation in the old Parliament of Scotland. Even after the Acts of Union 1707, burghs continued to be the principal subdivision. Until 1889 administration was on a burgh and parish basis.

The years following 1889 saw the introduction of a hierarchy of local government administration comprising counties, counties of cities, large burghs and small burghs.

With effect from 16 May 1975 and until 31 March 1996 the local government divisions of Scotland consisted of an upper tier of regions each containing a lower tier of districts except for the single-tier island council areas. Since 1996 there has only been a single tier of government, and the former island council areas are of equal status to the other councils.

Council areas

  • These are mid-year estimates for 2019 from the Office for National Statistics.
RankCouncil areaPopulation[3]Electors[4]Area (km2)[5]Density
(per km2)
4North Lanarkshire340,180256,174469.9724
5South Lanarkshire319,020248,8751,772180
9West Lothian182,140137,614427.7426
12Perth and Kinross151,290114,9365,28629
13Dumfries and Galloway148,790116,5936,42723
15North Ayrshire135,280107,763885.4153
16East Ayrshire121,84094,6571,26297
18Scottish Borders115,27091,9194,73224
19South Ayrshire112,55090,3001,22292
20East Dunbartonshire108,33085,410174.5621
21East Lothian105,79080,874679.2156
23East Renfrewshire95,17071,618174.2546
26West Dunbartonshire89,13068,826158.8561
27Argyll and Bute86,26068,2716,90912
30Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)26,83021,8743,0599
31Shetland Islands22,99017,8371,46816
32Orkney Islands22,19017,135988.822

Other subdivisions

Scotland has several other administrative divisions, some of which are handled by joint boards of the councils.

Electoral and valuation

There are several joint boards for electoral registration and the purposes of property valuation for assessing council tax and rates.[6]

Joint board areaCouncil areas
AyrshireEast Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire
Borders Scottish Borders
Central ScotlandClackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Dunbartonshire and Argyll & ButeArgyll and Bute, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire
Fife Fife
GrampianAberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray
Glasgow Glasgow
Highlands and Western Isles Highland and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)
LanarkshireNorth Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire
LothianEast Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, West Lothian
Orkney and Shetland Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands
RenfrewshireEast Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire
TaysideAngus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross


See also NHS Scotland

Health board area Council areas
Ayrshire and Arran East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and South Ayrshire
Borders Scottish Borders
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Fife Fife
Forth Valley Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling
Grampian Aberdeenshire, City of Aberdeen and Moray
Greater Glasgow and Clyde City of Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire,
Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire
Highland Argyll and Bute and Highland
Lanarkshire North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire
Lothian City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian
Orkney Orkney Islands
Shetland Shetland Islands
Tayside Angus, City of Dundee and Perth and Kinross
Western Isles (Eileanan Siar) Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan Siar)

Until 1 April 2014 the towns of Cambuslang and Rutherglen were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area despite being located in South Lanarkshire. They are now part of NHS Lanarkshire.


The Scottish Government has created seven "Regional Transport Partnerships", for establishing transport policy in the regions. They broadly follow council area groupings.

RTP area Council areas
NESTRANS Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire
TACTRAN Angus, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, Stirling
HITRANS Argyll and Bute (except Helensburgh and Lomond), Highland, Moray, Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles), Orkney
ZetTrans Shetland
SEStran Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, Midlothian, Fife, Scottish Borders, West Lothian
SWESTRANS Dumfries and Galloway
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport Argyll and Bute (Helensburgh and Lomond only), West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire

Eurostat NUTS

In the Eurostat Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS), Scotland is a level-1 NUTS region, coded "UKM", which is subdivided as follows:

NUTS 1 Code NUTS 2 Code NUTS 3 Code
Scotland UKM Eastern Scotland UKM2 Angus and Dundee UKM21

Clackmannanshire and Fife UKM22
East Lothian and Midlothian UKM23
Scottish Borders UKM24
Edinburgh UKM25
Falkirk UKM26
Perth and Kinross, and Stirling UKM27
West Lothian UKM28
South Western Scotland UKM3 East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, and Helensburgh and Lomond UKM31
Dumfries and Galloway UKM32
East and North Ayrshire mainland UKM33
Glasgow UKM34
Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire, and Renfrewshire UKM35
North Lanarkshire UKM36
South Ayrshire UKM37
South Lanarkshire UKM38
North Eastern Scotland UKM5 Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire UKM50
Highlands and Islands UKM6 Caithness and Sutherland, and Ross and Cromarty UKM61
Inverness, Nairn, Moray, and Badenoch and Strathspey UKM62
Lochaber, Skye and Lochalsh, Arran and Cumbrae, and Argyll and Bute (except Helensburgh and Lomond) UKM63
Eilean Siar (Western Isles) UKM64
Orkney Islands UKM65
Shetland Islands UKM66

Land registration

The current land registration system in Scotland divides Scotland into 33 Registration Counties,[7] each coming into effect on various dates between 1981 and 2003. These areas in most cases resemble those of the pre-1975 administrative counties with Glasgow being the only current city to form a registration county.

Registration countyOperational from
County of Renfrew6 April 1981
County of Dumbarton4 October 1982
County of Lanark3 January 1984
County of the Barony and Regality of Glasgow30 September 1985
County of Clackmannan1 October 1992
County of Stirling1 April 1993
County of West Lothian1 October 1993
County of Fife1 April 1995
County of Aberdeen1 April 1996
County of Kincardine1 April 1996
County of Ayr1 April 1997
County of Dumfries1 April 1997
County of Kirkcudbright1 April 1997
County of Wigtown1 April 1997
County of Angus1 April 1999
County of Kinross1 April 1999
County of Perth1 April 1999
County of Berwick1 October 1999
County of East Lothian1 October 1999
County of Peebles1 October 1999
County of Roxburgh1 October 1999
County of Selkirk1 October 1999
County of Argyll1 April 2000
County of Bute1 April 2000
County of Midlothian1 April 2001
County of Inverness1 April 2002
County of Nairn1 April 2002
County of Banff1 April 2003
County of Caithness1 April 2003
County of Moray1 April 2003
Counties of Orkney and Zetland1 April 2003
County of Ross and Cromarty1 April 2003
County of Sutherland1 April 2003


Sheriffdoms are judicial areas. Since 1 January 1975, these have been six in number:[8]

  • Glasgow and Strathkelvin
  • Grampian, Highland and Islands
  • Lothian and Borders
  • North Strathclyde
  • South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway
  • Tayside, Central and Fife

Lieutenancy areas

The Lieutenancy areas of Scotland are the areas used for the ceremonial lord-lieutenants, the monarch's representatives. The areas are similar to the Historic Counties and the Registration Counties, but are not identical to either. Most notably, the four cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow form separate areas from the surrounding countryside, with the Lord Provost of each city acting ex officio as the lord-lieutenant.

Lieutenancy areas of Scotland
  1. Aberdeen
  2. Aberdeenshire
  3. Angus
  4. Argyll and Bute
  5. Ayrshire and Arran
  6. Banffshire
  7. Berwickshire
  8. Caithness
  9. Clackmannanshire
  10. Dumfries
  11. Dunbartonshire
  12. Dundee
  13. East Lothian
  14. Edinburgh
  15. Fife
  16. Glasgow
  17. Inverness
  18. Kincardineshire
  19. Lanarkshire
  20. Midlothian
  21. Moray
  22. Nairn
  23. Perth and Kinross
  24. Renfrewshire
  25. Ross and Cromarty
  26. Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale
  27. Stirling and Falkirk
  28. Sutherland
  29. The Stewartry of Kirkcudbright
  30. Tweeddale
  31. West Lothian
  32. Western Isles
  33. Wigtown

Not shown:

Former police and fire services

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 resulted in the merger of local police and fire services on 1 April 2013 to form the Police Service of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Seirbheis Phoilis na h-Alba) and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS, Scottish Gaelic: Seirbheis Smàlaidh agus Teasairginn na h-Alba).

Prior to 1975 policing was the responsibility of the Cities and Burghs of Scotland (see List of burghs in Scotland). Between 1975 and 2013 Scotland was subdivided into Police and fire service areas based on the regions and districts and island council areas that were also formed in 1975. The police and fire service regions used between 1975 and 2013 are listed below.

Services Original area (former regions) Council areas
Central Scotland Police
Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service
Central Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
Dumfries and Galloway Fire and Rescue Service
Dumfries and Galloway Dumfries and Galloway
Fife Constabulary
Fife Fire and Rescue Service
Fife Fife
Grampian Police
Grampian Fire and Rescue Service
Grampian Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray
Lothian and Borders Police
Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service
Lothians and the Scottish Borders City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, Scottish Borders, West Lothian
Northern Constabulary
Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service
Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles Highland, Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles), Orkney
and Shetland
Strathclyde Police
Strathclyde Fire and Rescue
Strathclyde Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire
East Renfrewshire, the City of Glasgow, Inverclyde,
North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire,
South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire
Tayside Police
Tayside Fire and Rescue Service
Tayside Angus, the City of Dundee and Perth & Kinross

Lower level subdivisions

Scotland is divided into 871 civil parishes which often resemble same-named but legally different ecclesiastical parishes. Although they have had no administrative function since 1930, they still exist and are still used for statistical purposes such as the census. Many former civil parish areas also continued to form registration districts until 1 January 2007. Many boundary changes have occurred over the years and an area currently derived from an old parish might no longer contain a place previously within that parish. Similarly, county boundaries (as still used for land registration) have also changed over the years such that a parish mentioned historically (generally before the 1860s) as being in one county (or sometimes two due to straddling a border) might now be in a neighbouring county and consequentially in a different succeeding council area.

For most administrative purposes, the base level of sub-division in Scotland is now that of communities, which may elect community councils. The main role of these bodies is to channel and reflect local opinion to other bodies; they otherwise have very limited powers. There are around 1,200 communities in Scotland. Not all communities have councils; some have joint councils.

Scottish communities are the nearest equivalent to civil parishes in England.

See also

  • List of articles about local government in the United Kingdom
  • ISO 3166-2:GB, subdivision codes for the United Kingdom
  • Scottish Parliament constituencies and regions
  • Scottish Westminster constituencies


  1. With respect to Scotland the phrase "unitary authority" is merely descriptive; in the United Kingdom the phrase "unitary authority" as a designation is specific to local government areas in England.
  2. "Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997".
  3. "Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2019". Office for National Statistics. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  4. "Electoral Statistics - Scotland 1st December 2017". National Records of Scotland. 1 December 2017. Table 3. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  5. "Standard Area Measurements (2016) for Administrative Areas in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  6. "Scottish Assessors – Scottish Assessors Association website".
  7. Registers of Scotland publication - Land Register Counties and Operational Dates
  8. The Sheriffdoms Reorganisation Order 1974 S.I. 1974/2087 (S.191)
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