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A Quarter Century of Progress: Reflecting on 25 Years of the Scottish Parliament



Celebrating a Quarter Century of the Scottish Parliament

The inaugural session of the Scottish Parliament was held on May 12, 1999. Over the span of these 25 years, there have been seven leaders at the helm, the latest being John Swinney, who assumed his role just this week.

Scottish journalist @Jenster13

Sunday, May 12, 2024, 6:

The Parliament of Scotland is marking its 25th year of establishment.

The first session was held on May 12, 1999, just a few days following the initial elections for the Scottish Parliament, which the citizens of Scotland participated in.

First Minister John Swinney was among the 129 members of the Scottish Parliament elected when it was newly formed years ago.

Since its establishment in 1999, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood has seen seven individuals serve as First Minister: Donald Dewar (1999-2000), Henry McLeish (2000-2001), Jack McConnell (2001-2007), Alex Salmond (2007-2014), Nicola Sturgeon (2014-2023), Humza Yousaf (2023-2024), and John Swinney (2024 to the present).

Alison Johnstone MSP, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, described the 25th anniversary of Holyrood as a "significant milestone" in an interview with Sky News.

She also stated: "It's important that we use this chance to contemplate our past successes and anticipate upcoming opportunities."

In the brief period since its inception, the Scottish Parliament has solidly positioned itself at the heart of Scotland's civic affairs—a development that merits our pride.

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"The legislature consistently strives to adhere to its core values of transparency, accessibility, power distribution, and equality of opportunity.

"Acknowledging the significant changes in Scotland since 1999, it is crucial that we adapt and mirror these transformations."

As the chair, Ms. Johnstone aims to utilize the anniversary as an opportunity to further engage with the citizens of Scotland, discussing their aspirations for the parliament over the coming quarter-century.

She further stated, "I aspire for a parliament that stays pertinent and reactive, mirroring the constituency it represents."

"I envision a parliament that represents everyone, where every voice is heard."

"Our solid groundwork sets us up well, and I am optimistic about what lies ahead."

Significant milestones in the history of the Scottish Parliament:

On May 6, 1999, voters participated in the inaugural election for Scotland's newly established parliament. Tom McCabe was the first legislator to be elected. Subsequently, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government, led by Donald Dewar as First Minister and Jim Wallace as Deputy First Minister.

12 May 1999 marked the inaugural session of the Scottish Parliament. Overseeing the event, SNP MSP and seasoned party member Winnie Ewing notably declared the assembly "reconvened," highlighting its resumption after a hiatus since 1707 when the original Parliament of Scotland was adjourned and dissolved due to the enactment of the Treaty of Union with England.

1 July 1999: Queen Elizabeth II formally inaugurates the Scottish Parliament.

13 September 1999: The Scottish parliament sees its first bill, the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act, receive royal approval. This legislation addresses a legal gap that previously allowed convicted murderer Noel Ruddie to secure release from Carstairs State Hospital.

13 January 2000: The inaugural session of First Minister's Questions (FMQs) takes place. Alex Salmond is the first to pose a question to Mr. Dewar.

May 3, 2000: Dr. Bakili Muluzi, the President of Malawi, embarked on his inaugural official state visit abroad.

11 October 2000: First Minister Mr. Dewar passed away at 63 years old due to a brain hemorrhage that occurred after he fell.

8 November 2001: First Minister Henry McLeish steps down after being embroiled in a controversy regarding his expense claims.

9 October 2004: The new Scottish parliament building, referred to as Holyrood, was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. The structure was designed by Enric Miralles, a Catalan architect who passed away in July 2000, prior to the building's completion. The following year, Holyrood was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize, recognizing it as the finest new building in the UK.

24 August 2009: The Scottish parliament convened an extraordinary session in response to the controversial repatriation of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, to Libya on humanitarian grounds after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. A comprehensive discussion on this matter took place later at Holyrood on 2 September 2009. While opposition factions collectively criticized the move, they refrained from pushing for a no-confidence vote against the justice secretary at the time, Kenny MacAskill.

On September 18, 2014, Scotland conducted a referendum to decide on its independence. The outcome was a majority voting against independence, with 55.3% (over two million voters) opting to remain part of the United Kingdom and 44.7% (1.6 million voters) favoring independence. Following the referendum, Mr. Salmond resigned from his position as First Minister and was succeeded by

9 April 2020: For the first time, FMQs are conducted online as a result of the COVID pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures.

16 January 2023: A significant disagreement arises over Scotland's Gender Recognition Reform Bill as the UK government intervenes, employing a Section 35 order for the first time to prevent the bill from obtaining royal approval and being enacted. Following this move, the Scottish administration has ceased its legal challenge against the action.

15 February 2023: Ms Sturgeon has declared her resignation as the leader of the SNP and as first minister.

28 March 2023: Humza Yousaf has been elected as the first minister, making history as the youngest person and the first Muslim to lead a Western country.

29 April 2024: Mr. Yousaf has declared his resignation as the leader of the SNP and as first minister, following two votes of no confidence triggered by the dissolution of the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens.

8 May 2024: John Swinney officially takes office as the seventh First Minister of Scotland.

Stay informed on the most recent updates from the UK and globally by tuning into Sky News.


Since its inauguration in 2004, the Scottish Parliament building has welcomed nearly 5.5 million guests, of which approximately 170,000 have been school students.

• Distinguished guests at Holyrood have featured Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, ex-US president Donald Trump, iconic James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

• The cafe within the parliament building has distributed approximately 570,700 servings of tea and coffee, and approximately 123,360 pieces of homemade shortbread have been provided through both the cafe and its hospitality services, including during events for very important persons.


• So far, MSPs have reviewed 2,019 petitions.

• In 2021, Callum Isted, at only seven years old, became the youngest person to submit a petition to Holyrood, requesting that the Scottish government supply all primary school students in Scotland with reusable water bottles. This petition is still open for signatures and is under review.

• Over time, various campaigns have resulted in the NHS providing access to a crucial bowel cancer medication that extends life, and have also driven the creation of laws enabling women who have suffered from distressing transvaginal mesh implants to claim the costs of private surgical removal.

• The legislative body has approved 356 bills aimed at establishing new laws or amending current ones – this includes 290 bills from the Scottish government, 32 proposed by individual members, 22 private bills, 10 initiated by committees, and two emergency bills. Additionally, 53 bills have either been rejected or retracted.

Landmark law:

• In 2000, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) decided to repeal section 28 of the Local Government Act, which was a statute prohibiting the endorsement of homosexuality in educational institutions.

• The Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act of 2002 made personal care free for individuals aged 65 and over, irrespective of their income or living situation. In 2013, spurred by her husband and football legend Frank Kopel’s early-onset dementia diagnosis at 59, Amanda Kopel initiated a campaign to widen this benefit to include younger individuals. This led to the passage of new legislation in 2018, which was implemented in 2019, extending free personal care to those under 65.

• The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act, enacted in 2005 and implemented in 2006, bans smoking in almost all indoor public spaces.

• In 2012, the Scottish Parliament enacted the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act,">king Scotland the pioneer in establishing a minimum unit price for alcohol when it set the rate at 50p per unit in 2018. Recently, members of the Scottish Parliament have agreed to raise this minimum price to 65p per unit, aiming to reduce the fatalities and hospital visits associated with alcohol-related harm. This new pricing will take effect on September 30.

• The 2014 Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act enabled same-sex couples to legally wed.

• Enacted in 2019 and effective from 2020, the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act safeguards minors against any type of physical discipline, such as smacking.

• In 2020, Scotland set a global precedent by enacting a law to provide menstrual products at no cost to everyone. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, which was implemented in 2022, received full support from all Members of the Scottish Parliament and mandates local governments to offer these free items in public facilities, such as schools.

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Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, attended the inaugural ceremony of the parliament in 1999.

At that time, he was attending Forres Academy and was selected as one of several students from Moray to participate in the parade.

He donned a traditional kilt for the occasion and strolled the designated path with various high-ranking officials, among them the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

Mr. Ross spoke to Sky News, saying, "We were also arranged along The Mound when the late Queen entered to formally inaugurate the parliament.

"Having never encountered royalty previously, witnessing the Queen firsthand was truly a privilege and made the event extraordinarily memorable."

Mr. Ross acknowledged that despite his party's initial opposition to the smoking ban, he admitted that such legislation has positively impacted people's lives.

He remarked, "It's simple to overlook how things were before this legislation was enacted, but previously, you'd walk out of a bar or restaurant, and your clothing would smell strongly of smoke."

"Several pivotal laws have been passed that have significantly altered our daily existence."

Mr. Ross mentioned that one of his standout moments in parliament was successfully winning a wager against his competitor, Ms. Sturgeon.

He stated, "I seldom engage in gambling, yet I was thrilled that Children's Hospices Across Scotland benefitted from the £100 wager I placed with Nicola Sturgeon about who would resign first from our respective leadership positions."

"Since that time, I have witnessed the departure of another first minister, Humza Yousaf, who did not share his predecessor's confidence in outlasting me, unlike when she accepted our bet back in 2021."

Mr. Ross expressed surprise that Holyrood has already reached its 25th anniversary.

Looking forward to the next quarter-century, he expressed his desire for his children to witness a Scottish parliament that realizes its full potential and effectively utilizes the significant powers it holds.

"Since becoming a member, I've noticed that discussions frequently focus more on constitutional issues than on the actual priorities of Scotland."

Scottish Labour chief Anas Sarwar emphasized that a Labour government was responsible for implementing devolution years ago.

He informed Sky News, "The campaign spearheaded by Labour for a Scottish parliament brought the nation together, and now, over twenty-five years later, the parliament remains central to contemporary Scottish society."

"Over the years, the Scottish parliament has implemented numerous progressive measures that have helped modernize Scotland, ranging from the legalization of same-sex marriage to the implementation of a smoking ban."

"After a quarter of a century, it's evident that the current political leaders are preventing Holyrood from achieving its full potential.

"For an extended period, the Scottish parliament has operated without substantial focus on economic issues, resulting in dwindling funds for public services.

"Simultaneously, there has been a decrease in openness and an increase in corruption, which has harmed the vital trust connection with the Scottish populace."

"Scottish Labour, the architects of devolution, must now take on the responsibility of realigning and rejuvenating devolution to adhere to its original ideals, ensuring it benefits the Scottish people."

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the head of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, expressed pride in contributing to the achievements of the Scottish parliament.

Speaking to Sky News, he said, "During their time in office, the Scottish Liberal Democrats implemented groundbreaking laws such as eliminating initial tuition fees, establishing free personal care, and introducing a smoking prohibition."

"We also enacted laws for the construction of the Borders Railway, empowered communities with the right to purchase land, eliminated fees for dental and eye exams, implemented free bus passes, and enhanced transparency in government operations through the implementation of freedom of information legislation."

In his role as a youth worker, Mr. Cole-Hamilton played a pivotal role in modifying a piece of Scottish parliamentary legislation, which raised the care leaving age in Scotland from 16 to 21.

He stated, "From the time I entered Parliament in 2016, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have successfully negotiated an additional £120 million for mental health services during budget discussions, and have propelled the parliament to acknowledge a mental health crisis."

Our persistent debates on the necessity of financed childcare bore fruit, leading to the SNP finally implementing a pupil premium, drawing inspiration from the effectiveness of similar policies across other regions of the UK.

"We also effectively compelled the government to reverse their plans to eliminate jury trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As the leader of the party, I take pride in having been proactive in addressing concerns such as long COVID, substandard concrete in the structures of our schools and hospitals, pollution of rivers with sewage, and the increase in synthetic opioid use well before these issues gained widespread attention."

Looking ahead, Mr. Cole-Hamilton is optimistic that the Scottish parliament will support his fellow lawmaker Liam McArthur's proposed legislation on assisted dying.

He also hopes for a government that will implement measures to "enhance community health services" and "acknowledge the significance of available, top-tier care for everyone, nearby."

Mr. Cole-Hamilton further stated, "I am also advocating for greater devolution within Scotland, where councils receive extended funding agreements and enhanced authority over economic development."

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