Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 14:12 UK

Holyrood stage marks decade of drama

The Queen meeting 10-year-olds at Scottish Parliament
The Queen met Eilidh Shaw (second left) and other children who were celebrating their 10th birthdays

By Stuart Nicolson
BBC Scotland

As the stars of the show gathered for the sequel to the original Holyrood blockbuster, they must surely have reflected on how different the script was to the one they acted out a decade ago.

Even the stage itself had been moved a mile along the road from the parliament's original home on the Mound to the purpose-build Holyrood building.

It was at the Mound - the site of the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall - that the Queen had raised the curtain on the country's first parliament for 300 years on 1 July 1999.

MSPs sat at the Mound for the first five years of the parliament's life, while work continued - slowly - on the new Holyrood building at the other end of the Royal Mile.

The Queen returned to Edinburgh in 2004 to formally open that building after work was finally completed, three years behind schedule and massively over budget.

Ten years on, it is easy to forget just how painful the parliament's birth had been.

Personal dream

As she made the 300-yard car journey from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the parliament's Queensberry House entrance, the supporting cast of Scottish party leaders assembled inside was unrecognisable from the one that had greeted Her Majesty at the Mound exactly a decade earlier.

Gone, but definitely far from forgotten, is Donald Dewar, Scotland's inaugural first minster, who became known affectionately to many as the father of the nation.

Mr Dewar, who had campaigned for a Scottish Parliament for much of his adult life, lived little over a year after his dream was finally turned into reality.

He never saw the completion of the Holyrood building he had helped commission from Spanish architect Enric Miralles.

Today, the role of first minister is filled by the equally charismatic Alex Salmond, whose own personal dream is to father a new, independent nation of Scotland.

But perhaps the most striking difference could be seen in the composition of the audience that surrounded the parliament's main entrance to greet the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

The crowd was generously estimated in the mid-hundreds, with the overwhelming majority of the voices excitedly chatting ahead of the royal arrival speaking with foreign tongues rather than in the local brogue.

The parliament's 10th birthday party was therefore more of a curiosity than a celebration for the tourists desperate to pad out their holiday albums with a snap of the back of the Queen's head as she was greeted by Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson.

Queen meets crowds outside Holyrood
Foreign tourists made up most of the crowd who greeted the royal party

In contrast to the opening ceremony and wild celebrations which lasted the best part of two days 10 years ago, the anniversary event was short on both pomp and circumstance.

Saltires - and indeed the Union flag - were conspicuous by their total absence among the crowd, with the only national emblems on display being the maple leafs emblazoned on the t-shirts and backpacks of a small group of Canadian students.

Inside the building only 84 of the 129 members of the Scottish Parliament turned up to watch the ceremony.

A spokesman for Holyrood said it would have liked a bigger turnout inside the chamber, but said the day had still been highly successful.

The royal party left the parliament less than an hour after it had arrived. Within minutes the crash barriers were being removed and the thoughts of most of the few Scots present turned to the fortunes of that other national icon, Andy Murray, who was due to continue his bid for Wimbledon glory just a few hours later.

As the Queen departed, one English woman standing close to me was left to ponder out loud: "Is that it?"

But the apparent lack of local interest in the 10th anniversary should not be confused with any suggestion that the Scots have become disillusioned with their parliament.

Over the past decade, the Queen has been asked to give her assent to laws ranging from the smoking ban to land reform, free personal care for the elderly and the scrapping of university tuition fees.

Just last week, the parliament passed what has been described as the world's most ambitious climate change bill, while further anti-smoking and drinking legislation is planned to tackle Scotland's unenviable reputation as the "sick man of Europe."

Joint celebration

Several of these laws have been viewed enviously by other parts of the UK, which are generally not slow to borrow some of Holyrood's better ideas.

Holyrood has also avoided the worst of the expenses scandal that wreaked havoc at Westminster, thanks in no small part to a system of transparency which sees every MSP's expenses published on the parliament's website - although then-Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie did quit over his taxi bill in 2005.

But perhaps the most vivid memories of the day will be retained by the 142 children who arrived at Holyrood to hold a joint celebration of their own 10th birthdays.

They were among the 163 children born in Scotland on 1 July 1999, and have therefore lived their entire lives under devolution.

They may not yet fully realise it, but the parliament has already impacted significantly on their lives.

Within a few short years, for example, the youngsters will become some of the first to sit new exams under the Curriculum of Excellence, while controversy continues over the size of the classes in which they are learning.

Who knows what other dramas Holyrood will have in store for them over the next decade of their lives?



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