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The Parliament and the Church

Thomas Baldwin invites contributors to reflect on their memories on the 20th anniversary of the reopening of the Scottish Parliament, which first met in the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly Hall.
First Minister Donald Dewar with Her Majesty The Queen at the opening of the Scottish parliament 1st July 1999
© Press Association Images

TWENTY years ago this month, Scotland’s first Parliament in nearly 300 years convened in the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly Hall.

The first meeting was on May 12 1999, and the official opening by the Queen took place on July 1. In the hall that day were several politicians with Church backgrounds, as well as church ministers and officials who had been instrumental in the arrangement.

The Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald was Principal Clerk to the General Assembly from 1996-2010 and Moderator of the General Assembly in 2002.

Following the 1997 referendum which approved the setting up of a devolved Scottish Parliament, I was approached by Scottish Office civil servants seeking a temporary venue for the Parliament. The General Assembly Hall readily met such criteria as location in the heart of the Scottish capital, along with the space and amenity it offered as a purpose-built debating chamber. With colleagues from the then Board of Practice and Procedure I welcomed this approach and we agreed to explore the possibility further. After all, the Hall lay empty for much of the year and the prospect of such an arrangement appeared to offer a win-win outcome for both Church and Parliament.

And so it came to pass. Major changes were made to the Hall with the removal of the old green benches, many of which were sold as mementos of happy hours sitting on them. In their place came the new, hi-tech parliamentarians’ desks. A new public entrance was created off Milne’s Court allowing access straight to the visitors’ galleries. One particular feature, which soon became famous, was the black and white corridor, where MSPs gave media interviews. Indeed, by popular demand, a black and white corridor was installed in the new building at Holyrood.

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About Life and Work

IN THIS ISSUE THE PARLIAMENT AND THE CHURCH The 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Parliament ASSEMBLY 2019 'Meet the Moderator Designate' Timetables and reports to this year's gathering 'LEAVING NOBODY BEHIND' Christian Aid Week 2019 plus much more....