First Minister of Scotland

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"Prime Minister of Scotland" redirects here. For the Prime Minister of the whole of the UK, see Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
First Minister of Scotland
Scottish Government logo.png
Logo of the Scottish Government
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland.jpg
Alex Salmond MSP

since 16 May 2007
Style The Right Honourable
Residence Bute House
Edinburgh, Scotland
Appointer Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
as the Sovereign
Term length Scottish Parliamentary Elections are held every four years. The First Minister is by convention the leader of the victorious party. No term limits are imposed on the office.
Inaugural holder Donald Dewar
Formation 7 May 1999
Salary £140,000[1]
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The First Minister of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Prìomh Mhinistear na h-Alba; Scots: Heid Meinister o Scotland) is the political leader of Scotland and head of the Scottish Government. The First Minister chairs the Scottish Cabinet and is primarily responsible for the formulation, development and presentation of Scottish Government policy.[2] Additional functions of the First Minister include promoting and representing Scotland, in an official capacity, at home and abroad and responsibility for constitutional affairs, as they relate to devolution and the Scottish Government.[2]

The First Minister is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and nominated by the Scottish Parliament before being officially appointed by the monarch. Members of the Cabinet and junior ministers of the Scottish Government as well as the Scottish law officers, are appointed by the First Minister. As head of the Scottish Government, the First Minister is directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament for his or her actions and the actions of the wider government.

Alex Salmond, of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is the current First Minister of Scotland.[3] He was elected as the Parliament's nominee for First Minister on 16 May 2007 and was sworn in at the Court of Session the following day.[4] On 7 November 2012 Salmond became the longest serving First Minister of Scotland having served for 2002 days, 1 more day than his predecessor Jack McConnell held the post. On 19 September 2014, Salmond announced his resignation as First Minister following the "No" victory in the Scottish independence referendum, although he will remain in office until November 2014 when he will be succeeded by his current Deputy Nicola Sturgeon.[5]


Following a referendum in 1997, in which the Scottish electorate gave their consent, a Scottish Parliament and devolved Scottish Government were established by the Labour government of Tony Blair. The process was known as devolution and was initiated to give Scotland some measure of home rule or self-governance in its domestic affairs, such as health, education and justice.[6] Devolution resulted in administrative and legislative changes to the way Scotland was governed, and resulted in the establishment of a post of First Minister to be head of the devolved Scottish Government. The term "First Minister" is analogous to the use of Premier to denote the heads of government in sub-national entities of Commonwealth nations, such as the provinces and territories of Canada, provinces of South Africa, and the states of Australia, as well as the title of Governor for the states of America or those of Mexico.[7] Prior to devolution the comparable functions of the First Minister were exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who headed the Scottish Office, which was a department of the wider United Kingdom Government and existed from 1885 to 1999. The Secretary of State was a member of the British Cabinet and appointed by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to have responsibility for the domestic affairs of Scotland. Since 1999, the Secretary of State has a much reduced role as a result of the transfer of responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.[8]

Election and term[edit]

The First Minister is nominated by the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of each term, by means of an exhaustive ballot. The candidate is then appointed by the monarch. There is no term of office for a First Minister. The First Minister must be a Member of the Scottish Parliament and holds office "at Her Majesty's pleasure".[9] To gain supply (control of exchequer funds) the government must be answerable to, and acceptable to, the Scottish Parliament. Whenever the office of First Minister falls vacant, the Sovereign is responsible for appointing the new incumbent; the appointment is formalised at a meeting between the Sovereign and the First Minister designate.[9]

Given the mixed member proportional representation system used to elect its members, it is difficult for a single party to gain an overall majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.[10] The SNP gained an overall majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament general election, 2011. If no party has an overall majority it is usually determined by Parliament that the leader of the largest party, or the leader of any coalition that is formed in the Parliament, be nominated to the monarch for appointment. This need not be the case; theoretically, any member of the Scottish Parliament, from any party grouping represented there, can be so nominated.[9] The only requirement is that the Scottish Parliament nominates the candidate.[9]

After the election of the Scottish Parliament, a First Minister must be nominated within a period of 28 days.[9] Under the terms of the Scotland Act, if the Parliament fails to nominate a First Minister, within this time frame, it will be dissolved and a fresh election held.[9] If an incumbent First Minister is defeated in a general election, they do not immediately vacate office. The First Minister only leaves office when the Scottish Parliament nominates a successor individual.[9]

After accepting office, the First Minister takes the Official Oath, as set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.[11] The oath is tendered by the Lord President of the Court of Session at a sitting of the Court in Parliament House in Edinburgh.[11] The oath is:

The period in office of a First Minister is not linked to the term of Members of the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act set out a four-year maximum term for each session of Parliament.[12] The Act specifies than an election to the Scottish Parliament will be held on the first Thursday in May, every four years, starting from 1999.[12] Parliament can be dissolved and an extraordinary general election held, before the expiration of the four-year term, but only if two thirds (or more) of elected MSPs vote for such action in a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. If a simple majority of MSPs voted a no-confidence motion in the First Minister/Government, that would trigger a 28-day period for the nomination of a replacement; should that time period expire without the nomination of a new First Minister, then an extraordinary election would have to be called.[13]

The First Minister, once appointed continues in office as the head of the devolved Scottish Government until either he resigns, is dismissed or dies in office. Resignation can be triggered off by the passage of a Motion of No Confidence in the First Minister or the Scottish Government or by rejecting a Motion of Confidence in the Scottish Parliament.[9] In those situations, the First Minister must tender his and his government's resignation to the monarch.[9] In such circumstances, the Presiding Officer appoints an interim First Minister, until the Scottish Parliament determines on a new nominee to be presented to the Sovereign for formal appointment.[9]


Donald Dewar was the inaugural First Minister of Scotland, and held office from May 1999, until his death in October 2000.

The role and powers of the First Minister are set out in Sections 45 to 49 of the Scotland Act 1998.[9]

Following their appointment, the First Minister may then nominate ministers to sit in the Scottish Cabinet and Junior Ministers to form the Scottish Government. Ministers, hold office at Her Majesty's Pleasure and may be removed from office, at any time, by the First Minister. The First Minister also has the power to appoint the Chief Legal Officers of the Scottish Government - the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General but only with the support of the Scottish Parliament.

The First Minister is responsible to the Scottish Parliament for his/her actions and the actions of the overall Scottish Government. MSPs can scrutinise the activities of the First Minister and his Cabinet by tabling written questions or by asking oral questions in the Scottish Parliament. Direct questioning of the First Minister takes place each Thursday at noon, when Parliament is sitting. The 30 minute session enables MSPs to ask questions of the First Minister, on any issue. The leaders of the largest opposition parties have an allocation of questions and are allowed to question the First Minister each week. Opposition leaders normally ask an opening question to the First Minister, relating to his meeting with the Scottish Cabinet, or when he next expects to meet the Prime Minister, and then follow this up by asking a supplementary question on an issue of their choosing.

In addition to direct questioning, the First Minister is also able to deliver oral statements to the Scottish Parliament chamber, after which members are invited to question the First Minister on the substance of the statement. For example, at the beginning of each parliamentary term, the First Minister normally delivers a statement, setting out the legislative programme of the Government, or a statement of government priorities over the forthcoming term.[14]

First Minister, Alex Salmond meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, June 2007

Associated with the office of First Minister, there is also the post of Deputy First Minister. Unlike the office of First Minister, the post of Deputy is not recognised in statute and confers no extra status on the holder. Like the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister is an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament and a member of the Scottish Government. From 1999 to 2007, when Scotland was governed by a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats - the junior government party, was given the role of Deputy First Minister; a title which they held in conjunction with another ministerial portfolio. For example, Nicol Stephen, Deputy First Minister from 2005 to 2007, simultaneously held the post of Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning.

On two occasions since 1999, the Deputy First Minister has assumed the role of 'Acting' First Minister, inheriting the powers of the First Minister in their absence or incapacitation. From 11 October 2000 to 26 October 2000, following the death in office of the then First Minister Donald Dewar, his deputy Jim Wallace became Acting First Minister, until the Labour party appointed a new leader, and consequently First Minister.[15] Wallace also became Acting First Minister between 8 November 2001 and 22 November 2001, following the resignation of Henry McLeish.[15]

An officer with such a title need not always exist; rather, the existence of the post is dependent on the form of Cabinet organisation preferred by the First Minister and his or her party. The Deputy First Minister does not automatically succeed if a vacancy in the premiership is suddenly created. It may be necessary for the Deputy to stand in for the First Minister on occasion, for example by taking the floor at First Minister's Question Time.

Precedence and privileges[edit]

Bute House at 6 Charlotte Square is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.

The First Minister is, by virtue of section 45(7) of the Scotland Act 1998, ex officio the Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland and his place in the Order of precedence in Scotland is determined by the holding of that office.[16][17] The scale of precedence in Scotland was amended by Royal Warrant on 30 June 1999 to take account of devolution and the establishment of the post of First Minister.[17] The amended scale reflected the transfer of the office of Keeper of the Great Seal from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the First Minister and also created a rank for the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.[17] Throughout Scotland, the First Minister outranks all others except the Royal Family, Lord Lieutenants, the Sheriff Principal, the Lord Chancellor, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (the Rev A. David Arnott from May 2011), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth Prime Ministers (whilst in the United Kingdom), the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker.[17]

As of April 2007, the First Minister is entitled to draw a total salary of £129,998, which is composed of a basic MSP salary of £53,091 plus an additional salary of £76,907 for his role as First Minister.[18] This can be compared to the UK Prime Minister who is entitled to draw a total salary of £187,611, composed of a basic MP salary of £60,277 and an additional office holders salary of £127,334.[18] The First Minister is the highest paid member of the Scottish Government. The Lord Advocate is the only other member of the Scottish Executive whose salary exceeds £100,000.[18]

The First Minister traditionally resides at Bute House which is located at number 6 Charlotte Square in the New Town of Edinburgh.[19] The house became the property of the National Trust for Scotland in 1966, after the death of the previous owner John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute and remains in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland.[19] Prior to devolution, Bute House was the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland.[19] Weekly meetings of the Scottish Cabinet take place in the Cabinet room of the house.[19] Bute House is also where the First Minister holds press conferences, hosts visiting dignitaries and employs and dismisses government Ministers. The offices of the First Minister are located in the Scottish Executive buildings at St Andrews House on Calton Hill in central Edinburgh.[20] The First Minister also has an office in the Scottish Parliament Building.

Appointments to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom are made by the monarch, although in practice they are made only on the advice of the UK government. To date all First Ministers have been appointed members of the Privy Council, and therefore entitled to use the title 'Right Honourable'.

The First Minister is one of the few individuals in Scotland officially permitted to fly the Royal Standard of Scotland.

List of First Ministers[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Scottish Cabinet and Ministers". Scottish Government. 26 June 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "First Minister". Scottish Government. 24 September 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "MSPs approve new Scottish cabinet", BBC News online, accessed 20 May 2007
  5. ^ "Nicola Sturgeon only SNP leadership candidate". BBC News. BBC. 15 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Scottish Parliament - History - The Path to Devolution". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  7. ^ "House of Lords Debate - Power of Parliament to change titles". Hansard - House of Lords. 1998-10-28. Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  8. ^ "Devolution Guidance Note 3 - The role of the Secretary of State for Scotland" (PDF). Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA). October 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Section 45 - Scotland Act 1998". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  10. ^ "Proportional Representation - What is Proportional Representation?". Politics UK. Archived from the original on 2007-02-11. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  11. ^ a b "First Minister takes oath". Scottish Government. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  12. ^ a b "Scotland Act 1998 - Ordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  13. ^ "Scotland Act 1998 - Extraordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  14. ^ "Statement of Government Priorities". Scottish Parliament Official Report. 2007-05-23. Retrieved 2007-08-05. 
  15. ^ a b "World Statesmen - United Kingdom, Scotland". World Statesmen. Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  16. ^ Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)
  17. ^ a b c d "The Scale of General Precedence in Scotland". Burkes Peerage. Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  18. ^ a b c Murray Earle (2007-04-02). "Parliamentary Pay and Allowances". Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  19. ^ a b c d "Bute House Guidebook". Scottish Government. 2003-01-03. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  20. ^ "Departmental Contacts". Scottish Government. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 

External links[edit]

Name Picture Entered office Left office Party Government
1. Donald Dewar Donald Dewar.jpg 7 May 1999 11 October 2000 Labour Dewar
LabourLiberal Democrat
Acting Jim Wallace Jim Wallace.jpg 11 October 2000 26 October 2000 Liberal Democrats LabourLiberal Democrat
2. Henry McLeish Henry Mcleish.jpg 27 October 2000 8 November 2001 Labour McLeish
LabourLiberal Democrat
Acting Jim Wallace Jim Wallace.jpg 8 November 2001 22 November 2001 Liberal Democrats LabourLiberal Democrat
3. Jack McConnell Jack McConnell.jpg 22 November 2001 16 May 2007 Labour McConnell I
LabourLiberal Democrat

McConnell II
LabourLiberal Democrat

4. Alex Salmond AlexSalmondMSPS20111219.jpg 16 May 2007 Incumbent (announced resignation, to leave by November 2014) Scottish National Party Salmond I
SNP (minority)
Salmond II
5. Nicola Sturgeon November 2014 Incumbent (Yet to take office officially, running for election unopposed) Scottish National Party
Order of precedence in Scotland
Preceded by
Speaker of the House of Commons
Order of Precedence
Succeeded by
Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament