Museum acquires speaker's chair from parliament that never was

The Presiding Officer’s chair was meant to be used in the Scottish Parliament building in the event of a vote for devolution in the 1979 referendum.

Speaker’s chair from the Scottish Parliament building that never was is acquired by national museum in Edinburgh National Museums Scotland

A speaker’s chair from the parliament building that never was has been acquired by the National Museums Scotland.

The Presiding Officer’s chair was meant to be used in the Scottish Parliament building in the event of a vote for devolution in the 1979 referendum.

It had been intended that the Scottish Assembly, as it was known as at the time, would sit in the former Royal High School building on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.

A debating chamber had already been furnished in the building, however, the referendum did not secure the required number of votes to achieve devolution.

When the vote for devolution was later carried in 1997, the decision was taken to build a brand new purpose-built Scottish Parliament building which meant the chair has never been used for its intended purpose.

The former Royal High School building is currently undergoing major restoration which will see it repurposed as a centre for music education and public performance.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) is leading the project and took possession of the building in March 2023.

Speaker’s Chair from the former Royal High School being prepared for transport.

William Gray Muir, chair of the RHSPT said: “We are delighted that this piece of constitutional history will have a fitting home in the national museum, where it can help tell the story of how modern Scottish politics encountered the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment.

“The significance of the Thomas Hamilton building – the Old Royal High – and its symbolic importance to our national political and social ambitions is indisputable and its past, present and future form a critical part of Edinburgh’s status in the world.”

The chair is currently undergoing conservation treatment at the National Museums Collection Centre.

Georgia Vullinghs, assistant curator of modern and contemporary history, said: “We’re very pleased to be able to acquire this object. The furniture represents a key moment in the story of devolution and the history of Scottish politics.

“This large, blocky chair and its futuristic design is emblematic of a confidence in significant political change for Scotland in the late 1970s, but which did not ultimately happen at that time.

“This generous donation will allow us to better tell the story of that fascinating moment in Scotland’s history through our collections.”

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