The Highland Council area (Sgìre Comhairle na Gàidhealtachd in Gaelic, ) is a local government area in the Scottish Highlands and the largest local government area in both Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. It shares borders with the council areas of Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross, and Argyll and Bute. Their councils, and those of Angus and Stirling, also have areas of the Scottish Highlands within their administrative boundaries. The Highland area covers most of the mainland and inner-Hebridean parts of the former counties of Inverness-shire and Ross and Cromarty, all of Sutherland, Caithness and Nairnshire, and small parts of Argyll and Moray.
The area was created as a two-tier region in 1975, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, with an elected council for the whole region and, in addition, elected councils for each of eight districts, Badenoch and Strathspey, Caithness, Inverness, Lochaber, Nairn, Ross and Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh and Sutherland. The act also abolished county and burgh councils. In 1996, under the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994, the Highland Regional Council and the district councils were wound up and their functions were transferred to a new Highland Council. The Highland Council adopted the districts as management areas and created area committees to represent them. However, the boundaries of committee areas ceased to be aligned exactly with those of management areas as a result of changes to ward boundaries in 1999. Also, ward boundaries have changed again this year, 2007, and the management areas and related committees have been abolished in favour of three new corporate management areas, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Inverness, Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey and Ross, Skye and Lochaber. The names of these areas are also names of constituencies, but boundaries are different.
To many people within the area using the name Highland as a noun sounds wrong. Dingwall in Highland, for example, sounds very strange and is not idiomatic usage. To refer specifically to the area covered by the council, people tend to say the Highland Council area or the Highland area or the Highland region. Otherwise they tend to use the traditional county names, such as Ross-shire. Highlands sometimes refers to the Highland council area (as in Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service). More usually, however, it refers to a somewhat larger or overlapping area. Northern (as in Northern Constabulary) is also used to refer to the area covered by the Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service (which includes the island council areas of Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles).
The Highland Council headquarters is located in Inverness with most previous district council offices retained as outstations.
The Highland Council represents 22 wards, of which each elects three or four councillors by the single transferable vote system of election, to produce a form of proportional representation in a council of 80 members.
The most recent general election of the council was on 3 May 2007, and resulted in a so-called Independent Group and Scottish National Party (SNP) coalition administration. The SNP withdrew from the coalition in June 2008, and an Independent Group, Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition was formed.
Although consisting largely of former independent councillors, the Independent Group functions as a party, with Councillor Sandy Park as its leader and members accepting what is effectively a party whip. The process of collapse of the Sandy Park group and SNP coalition also produced an Independent Members Group consisting of councillors who are outside the Sandy Park group and outside the ruling coalition.
As of 4 July 2008, political representation is as follows: