Twenty years ago, on 12 May 1999, the temporary clerk, a certain Mr Paul Grice, opened the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament established under the Scotland Act 1998. Once all members had taken the oath or made a solemn affirmation, Dr Winnie Ewing uttered the immortal words:
She went on to set out her hopes for the Parliament:
“The first is that we try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and say goodbye to the badgering and backbiting that one associates with Westminster.
Secondly, in the House of Commons, I found that there was a Speaker’s tradition of being fair to minorities. I am an expert in being a minority—I was alone in the House of Commons for three years and alone in the European Parliament for 19 years—but we are all minorities now, and I hope that the Presiding Officer, whoever that may be, will be fair to each and every one of us.
My next hope is that this Parliament, by its mere existence, will create better relations with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I believe that to be in the hearts of the peoples of all of those countries.
My last practical hope is that everyone who was born in Scotland, some of whom, like me, could not help it, and everyone who chose Scotland as their country, will live in harmony together, enjoying our cultures but remaining loyal to their own.”
On the following day, 13 May 1999, the Parliament selected its nominee for appointment as the First Minister. There were four candidates: Dennis Canavan, Donald Dewar, David McLetchie and Alex Salmond. In speaking in support of his candidacy, Donald Dewar said:
Following his selection, Mr Dewar thanked his colleagues for their support and offered this observation:
“We in this place have a particular role. This must be a Parliament of Scotland’s people. We must look beyond the walls of this place to the people of Scotland. I pledge that I will lead a Government that will listen and respond to what the people of Scotland tell us. Co-operation is always possible where there are common aims and values, even though there may be great and dividing differences in other areas. I want to harness that potential good will, not just on behalf of this Parliament and those who have the privilege of serving in it, but on behalf of the people of Scotland.”
Here’s to the next 20 years of the Parliament fulfilling that role!