ALISON Johnstone has become the first Scottish Green MSP to be elected as Holyrood’s new Presiding Officer.
She 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.
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 yesterday – 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. It meant it took Johnstone several minutes to walk into the chamber following her election to address MSPs.
After thanking her family and her former Green colleagues, 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.
Commenting on the her election to the role, Scottish Greens co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater said: “We congratulate Alison Johnstone on her election, and we are confident that she will be an even-handed moderator as parliament addresses the pressing challenges that Scotland faces over the next five years.”
Johnstone’s predecessor as Presiding Officer, who decided not to stand in the election, ran proceedings. The position of presiding officer comes with an annual salary of £112,919.
The role involves chairing debates, including the weekly sessions of First Minister’s Questions and convening the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) which runs Holyrood on a day-to-day basis. The SPCB makes sure that the Parliament has everything it needs to run and provides support to MSPs to enable them to carry out their parliamentary duties. This includes property, services and staff.
It makes decisions on budgets, staffing, accommodation and security.
As Presiding Officer, Johnstone will face pressure to reform Holyrood amid opposition concerns that MSPs currently lack the ability to hold the Scottish Government to account.
She could also find herself giving a view on the competence of legislation to pave the way for a second independence referendum. However, she will not have a veto over this.