The story of local government structure in Scotland is a complex one. The current position is the outcome of three major reorganisations over the course of not much more than a century.
Since 1 April 1996 Scotland has been divided into 32 council areas, each of which is governed by a unitary council. Population, area and population density figures for each council area can be found here. A map of council areas Since 1996 can be found on our separate page about them, together with links to pages about each of the council areas.
Up until 1890, there were 34 county councils whose areas had evolved over the centuries from the mormaerdoms, stewartries and sheriffdoms of medieval Scotland. You can find out more about these traditional counties on our separate page about them, along with a map and links to pages about each county.
In 1890, the traditional counties were reorganised into 33 county councils, removing most of the enclaves and exclaves and producing a map that in some areas was much neater than the one it replaced. You can find out more about the post-1890 counties on our separate page about them, along with a map and links to pages about each county.
The biggest change until then came in 1975. Counties were swept away, to be replaced by 12 regions, with all those on the mainland being subdivided into between 3 and 19 districts each. You can find out more about the regions and districts of this era on our separate page about them, along with a map and links to pages about each county.
An equally dramatic change occurred in 1996 when the 12 regions were replaced by the current 32 council areas. Some of these reflect traditional counties that had disappeared in 1975, while others were based on regions or districts from the 1975 to 1996 era.
As a result of all these changes there remains considerable nostalgia amongst many in Scotland for the "lost" pre-1975 counties, and their names continue to crop up in descriptions of places and in addresses. You will even still find in fairly common use at least one name, Ross-shire, which technically ceased to exist in 1890.