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Holyrood End of an Era Supplement / 31 March 2021

Holyrood End of an Era Supplement / 31 March 2021

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The End of an Era: Commemorating the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament

Thank you to our sponsors for making this commemorative publication possible:


A chapter closes and a new one begins

From the editor, Mandy Rhodes

On 2 July 2016 and in the wake of the divisive vote that was to take the UK out of the EU, the Queen formally opened the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament and stressed the need for calm.

She acknowledged that leadership could sometimes be hard, but added: “As this parliament has successfully demonstrated over the years, one hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for which we can enable deeper consideration of how challenges and opportunities can be best addressed.”

On 25 March 2021, the Scottish Parliament has gone into dissolution ahead of the next Scottish Parliament election, marking the end of the fifth Scottish Parliament and of yet another political era. 

And as Scots go to the polls, a number of Scotland’s political veterans depart the parliamentary stage. MSPs who have served at Holyrood both in government and on the back benches since those early days of 1999. 

Mike Russell, Roseanna Cunningham, Bruce Crawford, Alex Neil, Linda Fabiani and Stewart Stevenson have almost all been MSPs for the full 22 years of the parliament and have all held senior roles across government. 

Others like Gail Ross, Adam Tomkins and Neil Findlay may not have been there for as long, but no one could accuse them of not leaving their mark. 

Jeane Freeman, elected in 2016 and promoted to health secretary just two years later, has overseen the Scottish Government’s handling of the global pandemic. 

Aileen Campbell, elected in 2007 at the age of just 26, has been in government in various roles for a decade and Maureen Watt, who has been an MSP since 2006, was the first dedicated minister for mental health.

This year also sees the departure of the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who leaves to take her place in the House of Lords. Davidson is credited with reviving the fortunes of the Scottish party and led it through the independence referendum as well as the EU referendum.

Iain Gray and Johann Lamont, both former leaders of the Scottish Labour Party, leave the parliament in May joined by other Labour veterans Lewis Macdonald, Mary Fee, David Stewart and Elaine Smith, who have been in with the bricks. And Ken Macintosh, the current presiding officer, who has been an MSP since the first parliament in 1999, also exits Holyrood.

For all MSPs in this parliament, there have been five years of big politics and policy formulation as the nation got to grips with both Brexit and COVID and grappled with major global issues like climate change and preparing for COP26 while at the same time having to focus on solutions to uniquely local issues like the rising number of drug-related deaths. Amid it all, there have been groundbreaking policies like the provision of free sanitary products and a new social security system established.

As Scotland prepares to go to the polls, Holyrood magazine makes its own assessment of the highs and lows of the fifth session in this special commemorative publication. It’s been an extraordinary time in Scottish politics and with such a large turnover of MSPs expected in May, the sixth session promises to be no more dull.

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