We fought for this for a long time

THEY came from the northern isles and from the Borders, from east and west, from the towns and from the country. The men and women elected to Scotland's new parliament formally became MSPs yesterday when they took the oath of loyalty to the Queen.

Some were battle-scarred political veterans from Westminster or council chambers, others political virgins experiencing their first taste of elected office.

Some, no doubt, have glittering political futures, other will sink into comfortable obscurity. Some will find the brutality that can infect even "new" politics too hard to bear, others will thrive on it. Such is the way of politics.

But all of that is for the future. Yesterday every one of 129 new MSPs united in expressing their joy, their satisfaction, even their relief at making it to the first meeting of the Scottish parliament for nearly three centuries at the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound in Edinburgh.

Henry McLeish, the MSP for Central Fife and the Scottish Office minister for devolution, said: "This is a great day for Scotland. A lot of people campaigned over the century to ensure that the parliament was established.

"That's a reality today. This is the meeting of a new parliament, the first for nearly 300 years, and Scotland can rejoice. I hope that people have a sense of the history."

Michael Russell, the SNP's chief executive and a list MSP in the south of Scotland, said: "The tingle-factor came when we stood to welcome Winnie to the chair and start afresh Scotland's parliament after so many centuries."

Frank McAveety, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, strode down the High Street with his family after taking his oath and could not resist a joke at the expense of Tommy Sheridan, the well-tanned Scottish Socialist MSP. Mr McAveety said: "We were wondering whether Tommy's tenth pledge was going to be a free sun-bed for everyone in Scotland."

Roseanna Cunningham, the Nationalist MSP for Perth, said: "Today for most people is the first day of reality. All of the looking at offices and settling in has been unreal but when you are in the chamber that reality has become apparent."

Jack McConnell, the former general secretary of the Scottish labour party and MSP for Motherwell & Wishaw, said: "As someone who first voted, and voted Yes, in the 1979 referendum, this is an emotional moment. But it is also a huge opportunity to change the lives of the people of Scotland for the better and prove that devolution can work."

Margo MacDonald, the SNP list member for the Lothians, said: "It's a historic day but it's only the first day in a long journey. Some people say this is the destination. I don't. I say this is a resting place for the moment.

"It's important to be here. It felt a bit strange because the parliament does not yet have any real form or personality. But it has prospects and that's what I am interested in."

The parliament's youngest member, the SNP's Duncan Hamilton, 25, described taking the oath as "the moment at which it becomes realistic for the first time".

"When you take the oath you assume the responsibility with it," he said.

Gordon Jackson, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Govan and a prominent QC, said: "It was not a nerve-racking experience but it was very exciting. It was totally different from standing up in court. You were conscious that this was something very special happening and not to be taken for granted."

David McLetchie, the leader of the Scottish Tories, said: "It's a big day for us - we are back in business. All our people were very proud to take the oath and take their seats. We are now looking forward to being a constructive opposition."

Susan Deacon, Labour MSP for Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, had to cope with the distraction of her 21-month-old daughter, Claire, shouting to her from the public gallery as she was about to take the oath.

She said: "I had just started to speak when I heard this wee voice shouting, 'hello, mummy'. I was so distracted that I forgot to sign my name and had to be called back. I had been slightly nervous about bringing Claire with me but it was such a big day for me and so historic that I decided it would be something to tell her in her future years.

"The moment I took the oath was the moment it became reality. We have had a few days to recover from the campaign and to get to grips with what the work is going to be; but when you are sworn in is when you realise everything is starting in earnest."

Sam Galbraith, the MSP for Strathkelvin & Bearsden, described the swearing-in as historic. He said: "We fought and campaigned for this for a long time and now it has arrived. It's a moment in history and I was there."

Kenny Gibson, an SNP member for the Glasgow regional constituency, said the swearing-in procedure was worthwhile for bringing home to MSPs the momentous nature of what lay before them. He said: "It was the moment you went from being an ordinary member of the public to being an MSP. You realised that after all the talking and campaigning, it had actually happened."

Nicholas Paul Johnston, a Conservative MSP, raised eyebrows by taking the oath in Catalan, in homage to his wife, who is from Catalonia.

Describing Catalonia's parliament as a possible model for the Scottish version (an argument which the Tories endlessly ridiculed while in Government), he said: "I think today's proceedings compared very favourably with what happens in Catalonia. It has been well-accepted by the Catalan people and they have accrued great benefits from it.

"I would congratulate the civil servants who have been seconded from the Scottish Office to organise this, they have done a tremendous job."

Ben Wallace, a Conservative MSP from the north-east region, described his first working day as being like "a first day at school with no headmaster and no curriculum". Alex Neil, an SNP MSP from the central Scotland region, said: "This is the end of the Union as we know it and the beginning of a new process which I hope will very quickly move us towards independence in Europe.

"I have been fighting this cause on and off since I was 16. It is a very proud moment to be sworn in as a member of first parliament in Scotland for 300 years. Basically, I am dead chuffed."