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The First Minister of Scotland ( ; ) is the political leader of Scotlandmarker 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. 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.

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 executive.

Alex Salmond, of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is the current First Minister of Scotland. He was elected as the Parliament's nominee for First Minister on 16 May 2007 and was sworn in at the Court of Sessionmarker the following day.


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. 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 or Governor to denote the heads of government in sub-national entities, such as the provinces and territories of Canada, provinces of South Africa, the states of Australia, and each state of the United States of Americamarker. 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 Government. The current incumbent is Jim Murphy who replaced Des Browne as Secretary of State for Scotland in the October 2008 reshuffle.


There is no term of office for a First Minister. The First Minister is a Member of the Scottish Parliament and like all ministers in the Scottish Government, holds office "at Her Majesty's pleasure". However to gain supply (control of exchequer funds) the government must be answerable to, and acceptable to, the Scottish Parliament, in reality the convention "at her Majesty's pleasure" means "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 First Minister designate and the Sovereign. In accordance with the Scotland Act, the Sovereign must appoint the individual who has been nominated by the Scottish Parliament to serve as First Minister. Given the nature of the mixed member proportional representation system that is used to elected Members of the Scottish Parliament, it is extremely rare for a single party to gain an overall majority of seats in Parliament. As a consequence, it is normally 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 Her Majesty for appointment - although this need not be the case. Theoretically, any member of the Scottish Parliament, from any party grouping represented there, can be nominated to the monarch for appointment. The only requirement is that the Scottish Parliament pass a resolution to that effect.

After a general election to the Scottish Parliament, A First Minister must be nominated within a period of 28 days following the election. Under the terms of the Act, if Parliament fails to nominate a First Minister, within this time frame, it will be dissolved and a fresh election must be held. If an incumbent First Minister is defeated in a general election, he does not immediately demit office. He only leaves office when the Scottish Parliament nominates a new individual to be presented to the monarch for appointment. This is normally the second item of business on the agenda of a newly convened session of the Scottish Parliament - after the election of a Presiding Officer.

Once they have had an audience with the monarch, and have accepted office, the First Minister takes the Official Oath, as set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868. The oath is tendered by the Lord President of the Court of Session at a sitting of the Court in Parliament Housemarker in Edinburgh. The Official Oath is in the following form:

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. 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. 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. However 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.

The First Minister, once appointed continues in office as the head of the devolved Scottish Government until either they resign, are dismissed (in reality something not likely to happen except in exceptional circumstances) or die 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. In those situations, the First Minister must tender his resignation to the monarch. In doing so he tenders the resignation of all Scottish Government Ministers who must leave office with immediate effect. In such circumstances, it is the responsibility of the Presiding Officer to appoint an individual to serve as First Minister in the interim, until the Scottish Parliament determines on a new nominee to be presented to the Sovereign for formal appointment.


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

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 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.

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. Wallace also became Acting First Minister between 8 November 2001 and 22 November 2001, following the resignation of Henry McLeish.

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, however, 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

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. 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. 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. 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 William Hewitt from May 2009), 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.

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. 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. The First Minister is the highest paid member of the Scottish Government. The Lord Advocate is the only other member of the Scottish Government whose salary exceeds £100,000. However, the current First Minister, Alex Salmond is also an MP in the House of Commonsmarker as well as an MSP and First Minister. The Scotland Act stipulates that such "dual mandate" politicians receive their full Westminster salary (currently £60,277) plus one third of an MSP's annual wage of £53,091 (or £17,697). As a consequence Alex Salmond has pledged to donate the £17,697 he is entited to, to a charitable trust to be set up in his mother's name, thereby only benefiting to the extent of his MP's salary and ministerial pay.

The First Minister traditionally resides at Bute Housemarker which is located at number 6 Charlotte Squaremarker in the New Townmarker of Edinburghmarker. 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. Prior to devolution, Bute House was the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Weekly meetings of the Scottish Cabinet take place in the Cabinet room of the house. 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 Government buildings at St Andrews Housemarker on Calton Hillmarker in central Edinburgh. The First Minister also has an office in the Scottish Parliament Buildingmarker.

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

Name Picture Entered Office Left Office Party Government Reason for leaving office
1. Donald Dewar 7 May 1999 11 October 2000 Labour Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition Died in office
2. Henry McLeish 27 October 2000 8 November 2001 Labour Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition Resigned
3. Jack McConnell 22 November 2001 16 May 2007 Labour First Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition; Second Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition Lost election
4. Alex Salmond 16 May 2007 Incumbent Scottish National Party SNP minority Incumbent

Acting First Minister

Name Picture Entered Office Left Office Party
Jim Wallace 11 October 2000 26 October 2000 Liberal Democrats
Jim Wallace 8 November 2001 26 November 2001 Liberal Democrats


  1. "MSPs approve new Scottish cabinet", BBC News online, accessed 20 May 2007
  2. Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)

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