First Minister of Scotland

"Prime Minister of Scotland" redirects here. For the leader of the UK Government, see Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
First Minister of Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon

since 19 November 2014
Style The Right Honourable
Member of
Residence Bute House, Edinburgh
Nominator Scottish Parliament
Appointer Elizabeth II
Term length No limit on term length. The First Minister is nominated by Parliament following a general election or resignation of the previous First Minister.
Inaugural holder Donald Dewar
Formation 7 May 1999
Salary £135,605
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The First Minister of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Prìomh Mhinistear na h-Alba; Scots: Heid Meinister o Scotland) is the leader 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.[1] 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.[1]

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 their actions and the actions of the wider government.

Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is the current First Minister of Scotland.[2]


Following a referendum in 1997, in which the Scottish electorate gave their consent, a Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government were reconvened by the Labour government of Tony Blair, having been suspended following the Acts of Union in 1707. 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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

Election and term

The First Minister is nominated by the Scottish Parliament from among its members at the beginning of each term, by means of an exhaustive ballot. He or she is then formally appointed by the monarch.[6]

In theory, any member of the Scottish Parliament can be nominated for First Minister. However, the government must be answerable to, and acceptable to, the Scottish Parliament to gain supply (access to exchequer funds). For this reason, the First Minister is almost always the leader of the largest party, or the leader of the senior partner in any majority coalition. There is no term of office for a First Minister; he or she holds office "at Her Majesty's pleasure". In practice, he or she holds office as long as he or she retains the confidence of the chamber. 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.[6]

Given the additional member system used to elect its members, it is difficult for a single party to gain an overall majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.[7] The SNP gained an overall majority of seats in the 2011 election, and thus had enough numbers to vote in its leader, Alex Salmond, as First Minister for a second term.

After the election of the Scottish Parliament, a First Minister must be nominated within a period of 28 days.[6] 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.[6] 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.[6]

After accepting office, the First Minister takes the Official Oath, as set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.[8] The oath is tendered by the Lord President of the Court of Session at a sitting of the Court in Parliament House in Edinburgh.[8] The oath is:

I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in the office of First Minister, So help me God.

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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[10]

The First Minister, once appointed continues in office as the head of the devolved Scottish Government until either he or she 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.[6] In those situations, the First Minister must tender their resignation and the resignation of their government to the monarch.[6] 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.[6]


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.[6]

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 Law Officers and 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 their actions and the actions of the overall Scottish Government. MSPs can scrutinise the activities of the First Minister and their 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 their meeting with the Scottish Cabinet, or when they next expect 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.[11]

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.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Nicola Sturgeon at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C., on 10 June 2015

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.[12] Wallace also became Acting First Minister between 8 November 2001 and 22 November 2001, following the resignation of Henry McLeish.[12]

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 their 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

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 their place in the Order of precedence in Scotland is determined by the holding of that office.[13][14] 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.[14] 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.[14] 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 G Russell Barr from May 2016), 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.[14]

As of April 2015, the First Minister is entitled to draw a total salary of £144,687, which is composed of a basic MSP salary of £59,089 plus an additional salary of £85,598 for the role as First Minister.[15] This can be compared to the UK Prime Minister who is entitled to draw a total salary of £142,500, composed of a basic MP salary of £67,060 and an additional office holders salary of £75,440 (the total entitlement for the Prime Minister had peaked at £198,661 in April 2011 but this was then dropped by around 25%).[16] The First Minister is the highest paid member of the Scottish Government. Sturgeon said she would claim £135,605, £9,082 less than her entitlement, as part of a voluntary pay freeze pegging her salary to 2008/09 levels.[17]

The First Minister traditionally resides at Bute House which is located at number 6 Charlotte Square in the New Town of Edinburgh.[18] 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.[18] Prior to devolution, Bute House was the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland.[18] Weekly meetings of the Scottish Cabinet take place in the Cabinet room of the house.[18] Bute House is also where the First Minister holds press conferences, hosts visiting dignitaries and employs and dismisses government Ministers. The Office of the First Minister is located at St Andrews House in Edinburgh.[19]

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 nominating elections

Party key Conservative Party
Labour Party
Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party
Scottish Green Party
Scottish Socialist Party
First minister nominative elections
Parliamentary term Date Candidates Votes received
1st Parliament 13 May 1999[20]      Donald Dewar 71
     Alex Salmond 35
     David McLetchie 17
     Dennis Canavan 3
26 Oct 2000[21]      Henry McLeish 68
     John Swinney 33
     David McLetchie 19
     Dennis Canavan 3
22 November 2001[22]      Jack McConnell 70
     John Swinney 34
     David McLetchie 19
     Dennis Canavan 3
2nd Parliament 15 May 2003[23]      Jack McConnell 67
     John Swinney 26
     David McLetchie 18
     Robin Harper 6
     Tommy Sheridan 6
     Dennis Canavan 2
     Margo MacDonald 2
3rd Parliament 16 May 2007[24]      Alex Salmond 49
     Jack McConnell 46
4th Parliament 18 May 2011[25]      Alex Salmond 68
19 November 2014[26]      Nicola Sturgeon 66
     Ruth Davidson 15
5th Parliament 17 May 2016[27]      Nicola Sturgeon 63
     Willie Rennie 5

List of first ministers


  1. 1 2 "Scottish Cabinet and Ministers". Scottish Government. 26 June 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  2. "Nicola Sturgeon becomes Scottish first minister". BBC News. 19 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  3. "The Scottish Parliament – History – The Path to Devolution". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  4. "House of Lords Debate – Power of Parliament to change titles". Hansard – House of Lords. 28 October 1998. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  5. "Devolution Guidance Note 3 – The role of the Secretary of State for Scotland" (PDF). Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA). October 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Section 45 – Scotland Act 1998". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  7. "Proportional Representation – What is Proportional Representation?". Politics UK. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  8. 1 2 "First Minister takes oath". Scottish Government. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  9. 1 2 "Scotland Act 1998 – Ordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  10. "Scotland Act 1998 – Extraordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  11. "About: Performance: Programme for Government". Scottish Government. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  12. 1 2 "World Statesmen – United Kingdom, Scotland". World Statesmen. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
  13. Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)
  14. 1 2 3 4 "The Scale of General Precedence in Scotland". Burkes Peerage. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
  15. "BUSINESS BULLETIN No. 48/2015" (PDF). Scottish Parliament. 17 March 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  16. "Members' pay and expenses – current rates from 1 April 2013 RESEARCH PAPER 13/33". House of Commons. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  17. "The UK's highest paid politicians: Who gets what?". Newsbeat. BBC. 19 March 2015.
  18. 1 2 3 4 "Bute House Guidebook" (PDF). Scottish Government. 3 January 2003. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  19. "Bute House". Office of the First Minister (Scottish Government). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  20. "Dewar wins top job". BBC. 1999-05-13. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  21. "McLeish wins first minister title". BBC. 2000-10-26. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  22. "22 November 2001: McConnell elected First Minister". BBC. 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  23. "Second term for McConnell". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  24. "Salmond elected as first minister". BBC. 2007-05-16. Retrieved 2016-03-19.
  25. "SNP leader Alex Salmond re-elected as first minister". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-02-16.
  26. "Nicola Sturgeon is elected first minister of Scotland". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  27. "Nicola Sturgeon wins Scottish first minister vote". BBC News. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.

External links

Order of precedence in Scotland
Preceded by
Speaker of the House of Commons
Order of Precedence
Succeeded by
Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament
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