Scottish Election 2021: First day of school for new MSPs

Today will feel like the first day of school for the new cohort of MSPs entering Holyrood for the first time.

The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood

The first 25 to 30 of the newly elected politicians – who have not sat in the Scottish Parliament before – will arrive to register, sitting for photographs for their new security passes and no doubt filling out endless forms. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the initiation (sorry, registration) will take place in two groups: the rest will do the same tomorrow, followed by an orientation session on Wednesday.

Of course, unlike their actual first days at school, all of this will take place under intense media scrutiny. Reporters and photographers are allowed to scrum (in a socially distanced manner, of course) around the entrance to the Scottish Parliament as they arrive. There will be a pool photographer in the Scottish Parliament’s garden lobby as they are formally registered, while broadcasters can request interviews with the new recruits from specific points around the building.

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On Thursday, the newbies will return to Holyrood, this time along with the old guard of veteran MSPs who already know their way around the parliament’s winding corridors. It will be the first time that the Scottish Parliament has hosted all 129 MSPs in over a year. The same afternoon, a new Presiding Officer will be elected, with two deputies voted in on Friday.

The highlight of excitement politically this week will be the selection of the presiding officer, with much speculation rife over who may take the role. Many believe that the SNP will be reluctant to give up an MSP, as the lucky winner of the role has to give up their party membership and every vote will count with a not-quite-majority for the nationalists. However, other parties will have the same problem, with, for example the Lib Dems probably equally looking to avoid having to lose one of only four seats.

However, despite an apparent return to normality, things will still feel strange in Holyrood. Due to social distancing, the maximum capacity of the main debating chamber currently stands at 66 seats on the floor and 27 seats in the galleries. Holyrood’s Main Hall will therefore be used as an ‘extension’ to the chamber over the next two weeks.

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