Scottish Parliament - Yesterday and Today
Part 4: Parliament Reconvenes
After the positive result in the Referendum, the hard work of drafting the legislation to create the new institution and its working practices then took place, based on best practices from around the world. "There shall be a Scottish Parliament" were the emphatic words at the start of the Bill which set up the Parliament in Scotland after a gap of nearly 300 years.
The voting system selected was unique. Every elector has two votes - one for a constituency candidate and another for a party. Under the system 73 MSPs were elected to local constituencies by the "first-past-the-post" system as used at Westminster. But the remaining 56 seats were voted for under a "regional list system". The number of seats each party got under the regional list were allocated on a proportional "top up" basis from regional lists put forward by each party.
The election result on May 6, 1999, was broadly as expected, with Labour gaining 56 seats, Nationalists 35 seats, Conservatives 18 seats, Liberal Democrats 17 seats and three seats going to individuals in minor parties. Without the proportional representation element, the Nationalists, who came second in many of the constituency elections, would have had only seven seats, despite taking around 29% of the votes. Likewise the Conservatives, who won none of the constituency seats, had around 16% of the total votes.
Parliament opened for the first time on 12 May 1999. The oldest MSP, the Scottish Nationalist MSP, Dr Winnie Ewing, acted as temporary Presiding Officer. She started proceedings by saying: "I have the opportunity to make a short speech and I want to begin with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say: the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened."
The Labour and Liberal Democrats had agreed a coalition government, and Donald Dewar was elected "First Minister". Sir David Steel, formerly a leader of the Liberal Democrat Party in the UK and a Member of Parliament at Westminster, was elected as Presiding Officer (Speaker).
The Parliament was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 1 July 1999. Donald Dewar, the First Minister, looked surprised when he entered the Chamber and was greeted by a spontaneous burst of applause from the other MSPs. Some of the press suggested this was D-Day (Donald's Day). David Steel concluded his welcome to the Queen with "we greet the monarch in the historic and constitutionally correct manner, with warmth and affection, as Queen of Scots." The MSPs joined in an emotional singing of the last verse of the Burns' song "A Man's a Man for a' That".
Next page > Parliament Today > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
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