Green MSP elected Holyrood presiding officer after party co-leader backs end of monarchy

·4 min read
Newly elected Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone - Getty Images Europe
Newly elected Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone - Getty Images Europe

A Green MSP has been elected as the Scottish Parliament's presiding officer and main contact with the Queen after the party's leader said he was looking forward to the end of the monarchy.

Alison Johnstone was the only MSP to put herself forward for the key role, Holyrood's equivalent of the Commons Speaker, after a series of other potential frontrunners ruled themselves out.

The Lothian list MSP, who had to give up her party affiliation, said she was very proud to become the parliament's sixth presiding officer, describing it as a "great opportunity and an incredible privilege which I will never take for granted".

Her appointment left Holyrood split down the middle with 64 SNP MSPs and 64 opposition MSPs following last week's election. However, there remains a majority in favour of separation.

The presiding officer role involves having private audiences with the Queen and accompanying her during the Royal opening of the parliament, with the next one due in July.

But her appointment came shortly after Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Greens' co-leader, reasserted his party’s republican beliefs as he and other MSPs were sworn in at the start of the new parliamentary term.

He said: “On behalf of the Scottish Green party, I would like to reassert that our allegiance lies with the people of Scotland who elected this Parliament and who are sovereign, and we look forward to the day when they can choose their own elected head of state”.

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MSPs must take an oath or an affirmation pledging they will be “faithful and bear true allegiance" to the Queen and her heirs and successors.

Nicola Sturgeon took the affirmation and before she made her pledge to the Queen, said: “I pledge loyalty to the people of Scotland in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people.”

Katy Clark, a Labour MSP and one of Jeremy Corbyn's inner circle when he was party leader, said she believed the people are “citizens, not subjects, and my allegiance will be to them”.

Twenty-three MSPs took their oath in a language other than English, including Scots, Gaelic, Urdu, Orcadian, Doric and even, in the case of Zimbabwe-born North East Green MSP Maggie Chapman, Zimbabwean Shona.

Holyrood's party leaders are understood to have wanted a tough presiding officer to deal with a highly divided chamber when Ms Sturgeon introduces her Independence Referendum Bill.

Opposition MSPs wanted someone who is determined to drive through reforms of the parliament's committees and rules in the wake of the Salmond inquiry, to ensure it is better placed to hold the SNP government to account.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes an affirmation at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - AFP
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes an affirmation at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - AFP

No party has been keen to give up one of its members to replace Ken Macintosh but Ms Johnstone was persuaded to stand following cross-party talks. She was backed by 97 MSPs, with 28 voting against her, two others abstaining and one spoiling their ballot paper.

In a speech to the chamber following her election, Ms Johnstone said she would foster a culture of "open debate" in Holyrood.

She said: "I think we should be able to have that debate, but I'd like to do so in an atmosphere of inclusivity, mutual tolerance and respect."

The Telegraph understands that 11 MSPs have canvassed their colleagues in today's (fri) contest to fill one of the two deputy presiding officer roles.

They include SNP backbenchers Bill Kidd, Kenny Gibson, Annabelle Ewing, James Dornan, Clare Adamson and Stuart McMillan. They would not have to give up their party affiliation if they won one of the roles.

Among the opposition figures who want the role are the Tories Sir Edward Mountain and Jeremy Balfour, Labour's Rhoda Grant and Claire Baker and Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney.