The Queen has spoken of her “deep and abiding affection“ for Scotland as she marked the official opening of the sixth session of the Scottish Parliament.
Accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall – known as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay in Scotland – the monarch addressed MSPs, followed by speeches from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone.
The Queen, who has been on her annual break at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, met with party and parliamentary leaders in the garden lobby ahead of the ceremony in the debating chamber.
Her Majesty, Charles and Camilla are meeting Scots who have been recognised for their contribution to communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She told MSPs: “Today is a day where we can celebrate those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the lives of other people in Scotland, locally or nationally, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have spoken before of my deep and abiding affection for this wonderful country, and of the many happy memories Prince Philip and I always held of our time here.
“It is often said that it is the people that make a place, and there are few places where this is truer than in Scotland, as we have seen in recent times.”
The Queen urged Scotland’s MSPs to “help create a better, healthier future” by tackling the challenges of climate change ahead of the Cop26 conference.
She said: “The beginning of a new session is a time for renewal and fresh thinking, providing an opportunity to look to the future and our future generations.
“Next month, I will be attending Cop26 events in Glasgow.
“The eyes of the world will be on the United Kingdom – and Scotland in particular – as leaders come together to address the challenges of climate change.
“There is a key role for the Scottish Parliament, as with all parliaments, to help create a better, healthier future for us all, and to engage with the people they represent – especially our young people.”
Responding to the Queen’s speech, the First Minister offered the parliament’s “deep sympathy and shared sorrow at your loss” and thanked her for being a “steadfast friend of our Parliament since its establishment in 1999”.
Sturgeon continued: “As we battle through the storm of a global pandemic, hope and the hankering for change is perhaps felt more strongly by more people than at any time in our recent history.
“That gives this Parliament a momentous responsibility and a historic opportunity.
“Covid has been the biggest crisis to confront the world since the Second World War – it has caused pain and heartbreak, it has exposed and exacerbated the inequalities within our society.
“But it has also revealed humankind’s boundless capacity for inventiveness, solidarity and love.
“And for those of us in public service, it has reminded us that with collective political will, changes that we might previously have thought impossible or just too difficult can indeed be achieved.
“In the months ahead, we must take the same urgency and resolve with which we have confronted this pandemic and apply it to the hard work of recovery and renewal, to the task of building a fairer and greener future for this and the generations who come after us.”
The ceremony began with the royal mace that sits at the front of the chamber and the Crown of Scotland being brought in, with parliamentary clerk Rea Cris carrying the mace and the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, the hereditary keeper of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, carrying the crown.
The Royal Conservatoire Brass played Fanfare for the Opening of Parliament 2021, composed by John Wallace, to greet the Queen as she entered the chamber.
As the Queen departed the chamber afterwards, Farewell To The Creeks was played by the Scottish Parliament’s piper, Stuart McMillan MSP, from the Members’ Garden.
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