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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK

UK Politics

MSPs pledge allegiance to 'Scottish people'

Winnie Ewing takes the presiding officer's chair

The first sitting of the Scottish Parliament for 292 years has been concluded.

The oldest MSP, the Scottish National Party's Winnie Ewing, 69, was first to take the oath on the stroke of 0930 in the temporary parliament building on the Mound in Edinburgh. She repeated the words in Gaelic.

BBC Scotland's Forbes McFall reports on the historic proceedings
She signed the register in accordance with the standing orders and took the presiding officer's chair temporarily until a permanent occupant is voted in on Wednesday afternoon.

At the end of the swearing-in ceremony, she said: "I have the opportunity to say a few words. I want to start with the words I have always wanted to say or hear someone say."

Vote 99 Special Coverage
"The Scottish Parliament adjourned on the 25th day of March 1707 is hereby reconvened," which prompted loud applause from MSPs.

She paid tribute to the late Labour leader John Smith, who died exactly five years ago and who worked tirelessly for devolution.

Winnie Ewing: Parliament "a dream come true"
And Mrs Ewing spoke of her hopes for the parliament. "The first is that we all try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and say goodbye to the badgering and backbiting one associates with Westminster."

White rose

After Mrs Ewing took the chair, Scottish Labour leader Donald Dewar stepped down from his seat to take the oath.

[ image:  ]
He was followed by the SNP leader Alex Salmond, who like his 34 colleagues wore a white rose, symbolising the white cockade ribbon worn by the Jacobite clansmen who followed Bonnie Prince Charlie.

BBC Scotland political correspondent Kenny MacIntyre says the two men warmly welcomed each other by shaking hands in public in the chamber. This was intended to be taken as an indication of the manner in which they hope their future exchanges will be conducted.

[ image:  ]
Mr Salmond was first to make the political point that his first allegiance is to the people of Scotland, not the monarch.

"For the Scottish National Party parliamentary group loyalty is with the people of Scotland in line with the sovereignty of the people," he said.

"I know that all members of this parliament will share that view."

[ image: Donald Dewar goes through the formalities]
Donald Dewar goes through the formalities
Next was the Conservatives' leader David McLetchie then Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat leader.

The former Labour MP for Falkirk West, Dennis Canavan, who won the seat back as an independent after being ditched by his party, echoed his opposition to swearing allegiance to the monarch.

He said he took the affirmation only in accordance with the law, to allow him to represent his constituents.

[ image:  ]
"Can I make it clear that I believe in the sovereignty of the people of Scotland rather than a monarch," he added.

Britain's first Green parliamentarian, Robin Harper, stepped up to the dais after Mr Canavan and passed a piece of paper to the clerk but this was not referred to in his oath.

All sights were set on the next to step up - Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, who had also said he would take the pledge but only under protest.

BBC Scotland's Forbes McFall reports on the historic proceedings
After declaring that his "supreme sovereignty lies with the people of Scotland and not an elected monarch", he stood with his right arm raised and his fist clenched as he read the words of the affirmation.

Afterwards, Tommy Sheridan conceded to "hypocrisy" in swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

[ image: Fist clenched, Tommy Sheridan reluctantly takes the oath]
Fist clenched, Tommy Sheridan reluctantly takes the oath
He told BBC Radio Scotland he only took the oath because he had no choice and that the regulations on disbarring those who refuse to take it were even tighter than at Westminster.

"I don't disagree that it was hypocrisy. An unelected monarchy is an outdated agency but I feel that we have imposed the Royal Prerogative even deeper into the Scottish Parliament.

"I don't know if people realise this, but in Westminster if you refuse to take the oath your seat remains vacant until the next election. In the Scottish Parliament, if you don't take the oath within two months of being elected there is an immediate by-election.

"I was obliged to do something, I'm not happy to have done it but I felt I was forced to do it."

Two attempts

The SNP's Dorothy Grace-Elder had to make two attempts to swear the oath. In her first, she added the words "to the people of Scotland" to the text.

Spectators tell BBC Radio Scotland why they went to the opening day of the parliament
Lawyers informed her later that the wording was illegal and she returned to the chamber to complete the statement properly.

"It was impromptu," she said. "It was not meant to be an anti-Queen thing, I'm very much in favour of the Commonwealth because that's where the Queen is important."

The entire swearing-in ceremony was completed as scheduled, by 1230.

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