Green MSP elected as Holyrood’s new Presiding Officer

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone has been elected as Holyrood’s new Presiding Officer.

Ms Johnstone was the only candidate and won 97 votes, with 28 against and two abstentions, while one MSP spoiled their paper in the secret ballot.

The Presiding Officer, the equivalent of the Speaker in the House of Commons, relinquishes party affiliation and sits as a non-partisan MSP for the duration of their term.

Ms Johnstone’s ascension to the role will mean the SNP draws even in the number of Holyrood seats, with all opposition parties combined on 64.

Covid rules meant the first meeting of the new Scottish Parliament on Thursday – which also saw all elected members sworn into office – involved some MSPs, including the new Presiding Officer, sitting in the entrance hall of the Holyrood building during the vote to allow for social distancing.

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That meant it took Ms Johnstone several minutes to walk into the chamber following her election to address MSPs.

After thanking her family and her former Green colleagues, Ms Johnstone said she would foster a culture of “open debate” in Holyrood, adding: “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.”

She also said the improved diversity in the new Parliament is “fabulous”, but added: “We can do better.

“I think we need to get to the stage where this Parliament truly represents all people in Scotland, people from the LGBT community, so that we really mirror those who live in our streets and in our neighbourhoods.

“There are challenges ahead of course – we are in the midst of the nature and climate emergency, as well as the pandemic, we have to tackle them.

“Our young people have done such a fabulous job of bringing this issue to life, they’ve helped ensure that we adults debate it properly on their behalf.

“We only have a few years to act and I think it’s really important that Scotland makes the most of the opportunity that (UN climate talks) Cop26 will provide.”

She concluded by saying she will do her “very best” to help MSPs represent their constituents well.

MSPs sworn in
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was the first MSP to be sworn in on Thursday morning (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Earlier on Thursday, MSPs elected last week were sworn into office.

Ms Johnstone’s predecessor as Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, who decided not to stand in the election, ran proceedings.

MSPs are required to pledge their allegiance to the Queen before they are allowed to undertake any parliamentary duties or receive their salary. If the oath or affirmation is not taken within two months, they will lose their seat.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was first to be sworn in, making an affirmation, followed by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar taking the oath.

Beforehand, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP “pledges loyalty to the people of Scotland in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people”.

Douglas Ross
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, takes the oath (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Ahead of his affirmation, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said he wanted to reassert that his party’s “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”.

His fellow Greens co-leader Lorna Slater also chose to affirm.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was the last party leader to be sworn in and he took the oath.

The rest of the MSPs were sworn in in alphabetical order.

A number of 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.