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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

XIII. The road to devolution

90. The Scottish Parliament Opening Ceremony, 1 July 1999

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1The first elections for the Scottish Parliament were held on 6 May 1999; the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament took place on 12 May 1999. On 1 July 1999, the Scottish Parliament was officially opened by the Queen and received its full legislative powers. A coalition of Labour and Liberal-Democrats formed the government with Donald Dewar as First Minister.

2The Scottish Parliament Opening Ceremony, 1 July 1999, [http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/​vli/​history/​firstDays/​1999opening4.htm], accessed 22 December 2008.

HM The Queen

Presiding Officer, First Minister, Members of the Scottish Parliament,

Today is a historic day for Scotland. It is our solemn duty in this chamber, with the eyes of the country upon us, to mark the point when this new Parliament assumes its full powers in the service of the Scottish people. It is a moment, rare in the life of any nation, when we step across the threshold of a new constitutional age.

Over the centuries the British have sought to acknowledge and promote that pragmatic balance between continuity and change as we have forged new political structures to respond more effectively to democratic aspirations. This new Parliament, and the symbolism of this opening ceremony, are rightly anchored in the history of Scotland.

The crown placed before us today has been passed from sovereign to sovereign at least since the coronation of Alexander the Third in 1294. Your procession this morning from Parliament House recalled the link with that earlier assembly which last sat in 1706. And it was in this very building, now your temporary home, that my father seventy years ago became the first member of the Royal Family since the seventeenth century to take on the duties of Lord High Commissioner. As we move into a new era of government in Scotland, we can draw strength and direction from such landmarks of our tradition and history.

We can also draw confidence from the respect and admiration which exists for Scotland not only in the rest of the United Kingdom but also across the Commonwealth and through the world. This is a society in which the qualities of co-operation, learning, entrepreneurial flair, and national pride run deep. The Scottish education system has proved its quality and value through the positions occupied by Scots world-wide. The Scottish financial sector is recognised as being amongst the largest in Europe. The Edinburgh International Festival is one of the world’s leading cultural events. And Scottish sportsmen and women are regularly seen as some of the country’s best ambassadors.

Scotland is all this and so much more: the grit, determination and humour, the forthrightness and above all the strong sense of identity of the Scottish people—qualities which contribute so much to the life of the United Kingdom. And these qualities reflect a Scotland which, if I may make a personal point, occupies such a special place in my own and my family’s affections.

As we step forward into this new constitutional age, the test for Scotland and for this new Parliament will be to harness these great strengths, to channel them through the energy of the young and the experience of the old, to shape the future across Scotland—in the Western Isles, in Aberdeen, in the Borders, in Glasgow, and in every corner of this land.

This Parliament has set itself many challenges. To be modern, not just in the use of technology but in the way it engages with the people of Scotland in a climate of openness and accessibility. To understand the past, respecting those timeless values of probity and service to all the people of Scotland. As the first members of the new Scottish Parliament you carry a heavy burden of responsibility in meeting these challenges.

You will be called upon to exercise wisdom in using the powers of this Parliament: to make laws with care and deliberation and to hold to account Scottish Ministers and public servants to ensure good government for the people of Scotland.

Yours will also be the obligation over the coming months to set lasting standards; of vision and purpose, of debate and discussion, not just for our own generation but for future generations, for those young people who have just performed so well outside this chamber, and those who will be parading past after the ceremony, carrying their banners, and celebrating the enthusiasm of every constituency represented here today.

The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, join me in wishing this Parliament every success. My prayers are with you all as you embark on this new and history journey. I have trust in the good judgement of the Scottish people; I have faith in your commitment to their service; and I am confident in the future of Scotland.

I am pleased therefore now to declare the Scottish Parliament open and, in so doing, to present to you this newly commissioned mace, a modern embodiment of an ancient symbol of power, legitimacy and the relationship between Parliament and the Crown. Let it serve to remind all of the lawful authority vested in the Scottish Parliament from today.

Donald Dewar

Your Majesty, on behalf of the people of Scotland, I thank you for the gift of this mace.

It is a symbol of the great democratic traditions from which we draw our inspiration and our strength.

At its head are inscribed the opening words of our founding statute: ‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament’

Through long years, those words were first a hope, then a belief, then a promise. Now they are a reality.

This is a moment anchored in our history. Today, we reach back through the long haul to win this Parliament, through the struggles of those who brought democracy to Scotland, to that other Parliament dissolved in controversy nearly three centuries ago.

Today, we look forward to the time when this moment will be seen as a turning point: the day when democracy was renewed in Scotland, when we revitalised our place in this our United Kingdom.

This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves. In the quiet moments today, we might hear some echoes from the past:

The shout of the welder in the din of the great Clyde shipyards:

  • 5 The County of Kincardine, also known as Kincardineshire or The Mearns on the coast of northeast Sc (...)

the speak of the Mearns5, with its soul in the land;

the discourse of the enlightenment, when Edinburgh and Glasgow were a light held to the intellectual life of Europe;

the wild cry of the Great Pipes;

and back to the distant cries of the battles of Bruce and Wallace.

The past is part of us. But today there is a new voice in the land, the voice of a democratic Parliament. A voice to shape Scotland, a voice for the future.

Walter Scott wrote that only a man with soul so dead could have no sense, no feel of his native land. For me, for any Scot, today is a proud moment; a new stage on a journey begun long ago and which has no end. This is a proud day for all of us.

A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends. And those too are part of our mace. Woven into its symbolic thistles are these four words:

‘Wisdom. Justice. Compassion. Integrity.’

Burns would have understood that. We have just heard—beautifully sung—one of his most enduring works. At the heart of that song is a very Scottish conviction: that honesty and simple dignity are priceless virtues, not imparted by rank or birth or privilege but part of the soul.

Burns believed that sense and worth ultimately prevail. He believed that was the core of politics; that without it, ours would be an impoverished profession.

‘Wisdom. Justice. Compassion. Integrity.’ Timeless values. Honourable aspirations for this new forum of democracy, born on the cusp of a new century.

We are fallible. We will make mistakes. But we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal.

I look forward to the days ahead when this Chamber will sound with debate, argument and passion. When men and women from all over Scotland will meet to work together for a future built from the first principles of social justice.

But today, we pause and reflect. It is a rare privilege in an old nation to open a new Parliament. Today is a celebration of the principles, the traditions, the democratic imperatives which have brought us to this point and will sustain us into the future.

Your Majesty, we are all proud that are here to handsel this Parliament and here with us as we dedicate ourselves to the work ahead.

Your Majesty, our thanks.

Notes

5 The County of Kincardine, also known as Kincardineshire or The Mearns on the coast of northeast Scotland. The Speak of the Mearns is a novel (published posthumously in 1982) written by the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon (the pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell [1901-1935]).

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