First Minister of Scotland
Scottish Gaelic: Prìomh Mhinistear na h-Alba
Logo used for the Office of the First Minister of Scotland

Flag of Scotland
Humza Yousaf
since 29 March 2023
Scottish Government
Scottish Cabinet
Scottish Parliament
StyleFirst Minister
The Right Honourable
(UK and Commonwealth)
His/Her Excellency[1]
Member of
Reports toScottish Parliament
ResidenceBute House
SeatSt Andrew's House, Edinburgh
NominatorScottish Parliament
AppointerThe Monarch
Term lengthAt His Majesty's Pleasure
The first minister is nominated by Parliament following an election or resignation
Inaugural holderDonald Dewar
FormationMay 17, 1999
(24 years ago)
DeputyDeputy First Minister
Salary£165,678 per annum (2023)[a][3]
(including £67,662 MSP salary) Edit this at Wikidata

The First Minister of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: prìomh mhinistear na h-Alba [ˈpʰrʲiəv ˈvinɪʃtʲɛr nə ˈhal̪ˠapə]) is the head of the Scottish Government and keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland. The first minister chairs the Scottish Cabinet and is primarily responsible for the formulation, development and presentation of Scottish Government policy.[4] Additional functions of the first minister include promoting and representing Scotland in an official capacity, at home and abroad.[4]

The first minister is nominated by the Scottish Parliament by fellow MSPs, and is formally appointed by the monarch. Members of the Scottish Cabinet and junior ministers of the Scottish Government as well as the Scottish law officers, are appointed by the first minister. As head of the Scottish Government, the first minister is directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament for their actions and the actions of the wider government.

The office is held by Humza Yousaf of the Scottish National Party since 29 March 2023, following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon. Yousaf was elected as the nominee by the Scottish Parliament on 28 March 2023.[5] The following day Yousaf took the oath of office, received the Scottish seal and became formally appointed by Charles III.[6][7][8]


Following the referendum in 1997, in which the Scottish electorate gave their consent, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive (later the Scottish Government) were established by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Labour government of the prime minister, Tony Blair.

The former Parliament of Scotland had been suspended following the Acts of Union 1707, forming the Parliament of Great Britain. The re-establishment of a dedicated legislature and executive for Scotland was known as devolution and initiated a measure of home rule or self-governance in its domestic affairs, such as health, education and justice.[9] The devolution movement came to a head in the 1970s, and resulted in a Royal Commission on the Constitution, leading to the Scotland Act 1978. This would have established an autonomous Scottish Executive with a leader termed 'First Secretary', a post for which Strathclyde political leader Geoff Shaw was widely expected to be chosen.[10][11] Shaw died prematurely and the failure of the referendum of 1979 led to the Act not being implemented.

Following the 1997 referendum and Scotland Act 1998, Scottish devolution led to the establishment of a post of first minister as head of the devolved Scottish Government.

Since 1999, the Secretary of State for Scotland of the British Government has had a much reduced role at the renamed Scotland Office as a result of the transfer of responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.[12]

Election and term

The first minister is nominated by the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of each term, by means of an exhaustive ballot among its members, and is then formally appointed by the monarch.[13]

Although any member of the Scottish Parliament can be nominated for first minister, the government must maintain the confidence of the Scottish Parliament in order to gain supply (access to exchequer funds) and remain in office. For this reason, every permanent first minister has been the leader of the largest party, or the leader of the senior partner in any majority coalition. There is no term of office for a first minister; they hold office "at His Majesty's pleasure". In practice, a first minister cannot remain in office against the will of the Scottish Parliament; indeed, the Scotland Act explicitly requires the first minister to either resign or seek a parliamentary dissolution (and with it, new elections) if his or her government "no longer enjoys the confidence of the Parliament." Whenever the office of first minister falls vacant, the sovereign is responsible for appointing the new incumbent upon nomination by the Scottish Parliament; the appointment is formalised at a meeting between the sovereign and the first minister designate.[13]

Given the additional member system used to elect its members, it is difficult for a single party to gain an overall majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.[14] The SNP did gain an overall majority of seats in the 2011 election, and thus had enough numbers to vote in its leader, Alex Salmond, as first minister for a second term.

After the election of the Scottish Parliament, a first minister must be nominated within a period of 28 days.[13] Under the terms of the Scotland Act, if the Parliament fails to nominate a first minister, within this time frame, it will be dissolved and a fresh election held.[13] If an incumbent first minister is defeated in a general election, they do not immediately vacate office. The first minister only leaves office when the Scottish Parliament nominates a successor individual.[13]

After accepting office, the first minister takes the Official Oath, as set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868.[15] The oath is tendered by the Lord President of the Court of Session at a sitting of the Court in Parliament House in Edinburgh.[15] The oath is:

I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve His Majesty King Charles in the office of first minister, So help me God.

The period in office of a first minister is not linked to the term of members of the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act set out a four-year maximum term for each session of Parliament.[16] The Act specifies than an election to the Scottish Parliament will be held on the first Thursday in May, every four years, starting from 1999.[16] Parliament can be dissolved and an extraordinary general election held, before the expiration of the four-year term, but only if two-thirds (or more) of elected MSPs vote for such action in a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. If a simple majority of MSPs voted a no-confidence motion in the first minister or government, that would trigger a 28-day period for the nomination of a replacement; should that time period expire without the nomination of a new first minister, then an extraordinary election would have to be called.[17]

The first minister, once appointed, continues in office as the head of the Scottish Government until they resign, are dismissed or die in office. Resignation can be triggered by the passage of a Motion of No Confidence in the first minister or the Scottish Government or by rejecting a motion of confidence in the Scottish Parliament.[13] In those situations, the first minister must tender their resignation and the resignation of their government.[13] In such circumstances, the presiding officer would appoint an interim first minister, until the Scottish Parliament determined on a new nominee to be appointed by the monarch.[13]


Donald Dewar was the inaugural first minister of Scotland, and held office from May 1999 until his death in October 2000.

The role and powers of the first minister are set out in Sections 45 to 49 of the Scotland Act 1998.[13]

Following their appointment, the first minister may then nominate ministers to sit in the Scottish Cabinet and junior ministers to form the Scottish Government. They are then formally elected by the Scottish Parliament. Ministers hold office at His Majesty's Pleasure and may be removed from office, at any time, by the first minister. The first minister also has the power to appoint the law officers and chief legal officers of the Scottish Government – the lord advocate and the solicitor general but only with the support of the Scottish Parliament.

The first minister is responsible to the Scottish Parliament for their actions and the actions of the overall Scottish Government. MSPs can scrutinise the activities of the first minister and their Cabinet by tabling written questions or by asking oral questions in the Scottish Parliament. Direct questioning of the first minister takes place at First Minister's Questions (FMQs) each Thursday at noon when Parliament is sitting. The 30-minute session enables MSPs to ask questions of the first minister, on any issue. The leaders of the largest opposition parties have an allocation of questions and are allowed to question the first minister each week. Opposition leaders normally ask an opening question to the first minister, relating to their meeting with the Scottish Cabinet, or when they next expect to meet the Prime Minister, and then follow this up by asking a supplementary question on an issue of their choosing.

In addition to direct questioning, the first minister is also able to deliver oral statements to the Scottish Parliament chamber, after which members are invited to question the first minister on the substance of the statement. For example, at the beginning of each parliamentary term, the first minister normally delivers a statement, setting out the legislative programme of the Government, or a statement of government priorities over the forthcoming term.[18]

Associated with the office of first minister, there is also the post of deputy first minister. Unlike the office of first minister, the post of deputy is not recognised in statute and confers no extra status on the holder. Like the first minister, the deputy first minister is an elected member of the Scottish Parliament and a member of the Scottish Government. From 1999 to 2007, when Scotland was governed by a Labour–Liberal Democrat coalition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats – the junior government party – was given the role of deputy first minister; a title which they held in conjunction with another ministerial portfolio. For example, Nicol Stephen, deputy first minister from 2005 to 2007, simultaneously held the post of Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning.

First Minister Henry McLeish meets with U.S. President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House, 2001

On two occasions since 1999, the deputy first minister has assumed the role of 'acting' first minister, inheriting the powers of the first minister in their absence or incapacitation. From 11 October 2000 to 26 October 2000, following the death in office of the then First Minister Donald Dewar, his deputy Jim Wallace became acting first minister, until the Labour party appointed a new leader, and consequently first minister.[19] Wallace also became Acting First Minister between 8 November 2001 and 22 November 2001, following the resignation of Henry McLeish.[19]

An officer with such a title need not always exist; rather, the existence of the post is dependent on the form of Cabinet organisation preferred by the first minister and their party. The deputy first minister does not automatically succeed if a vacancy in the premiership is suddenly created. It may be necessary for the deputy to stand in for the first minister on occasion, for example by taking the floor at First Minister's Questions.

Precedence and privileges

The first minister as ex officio the keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland is permitted to fly the Royal Banner of Scotland.

The first minister is, by virtue of section 45(7) of the Scotland Act 1998, ex officio the keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland and their place in the order of precedence in Scotland is determined by the holding of that office.[20][21] The scale of precedence in Scotland was amended by royal warrant on 30 June 1999 to take account of devolution and the establishment of the post of first minister.[21] The amended scale reflected the transfer of the office of keeper of the Great Seal from the secretary of state for Scotland to the first minister and also created a rank for the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament.[21] Throughout Scotland, the first minister outranks all others except the royal family, lord lieutenants, the sheriff principal, the Lord Chancellor, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth prime ministers (whilst in the United Kingdom), the speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker.[21] As keep of the Great Seal, the first minister is entitled to fly the Royal Banner of Scotland.[22]

As of April 2015, the first minister is entitled to draw a total salary of £144,687, which is composed of a basic MSP salary of £59,089 plus an additional salary of £85,598 for the role as first minister.[23] This can be compared to the UK Prime Minister who is entitled to draw a total salary of £142,500, composed of a basic MP salary of £67,060 and an additional office holder's salary of £75,440 (the total entitlement for the prime minister had peaked at £198,661 in April 2011 but this was then dropped by around 25%).[24] The first minister is the highest paid member of the Scottish Government. Sturgeon said she would claim £135,605, £9,082 less than her entitlement, as part of a voluntary pay freeze pegging her salary to 2008/09 levels.[25]

The first minister traditionally resides at Bute House which is located at number 6 Charlotte Square in the New Town of Edinburgh.[26] The house became the property of the National Trust for Scotland in 1966, after the death of the previous owner John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute and remains in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland.[26] Prior to devolution, Bute House was the official residence of the Secretary of State for Scotland.[26] Weekly meetings of the Scottish Cabinet take place in the Cabinet room of the house.[26] Bute House is also where the first minister holds press conferences, hosts visiting dignitaries and employs and dismisses government Ministers. The Office of the First Minister is located at St Andrews House in Edinburgh.[27]

Appointments to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom are made by the monarch, although in practice they are made only on the advice of the UK government. To date all first ministers have been appointed members of the Privy Council, and therefore entitled to use the style 'Right Honourable'.

List of nominating elections

Party key Scottish Conservatives
Scottish Labour
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party
Scottish Greens
Scottish Socialist Party
First minister nominative elections
Parliamentary term Date Candidates Votes received
1st Parliament 13 May 1999[30]   Donald Dewar 71
  Alex Salmond 35
  David McLetchie 17
  Dennis Canavan 3
26 October 2000[31]   Henry McLeish 68
  John Swinney 33
  David McLetchie 19
  Dennis Canavan 3
22 November 2001[32]   Jack McConnell 70
  John Swinney 34
  David McLetchie 19
  Dennis Canavan 3
2nd Parliament 15 May 2003[33]   Jack McConnell 67
  John Swinney 26
  David McLetchie 18
  Robin Harper 6
  Tommy Sheridan 6
  Dennis Canavan 2
  Margo MacDonald 2
3rd Parliament 16 May 2007[34]   Alex Salmond 49
  Jack McConnell 46
4th Parliament 18 May 2011[35]   Alex Salmond 68
19 November 2014[36]   Nicola Sturgeon 66
  Ruth Davidson 15
5th Parliament 17 May 2016[37]   Nicola Sturgeon 63
  Willie Rennie 5
6th Parliament 18 May 2021[38]   Nicola Sturgeon 64
  Douglas Ross 31
  Willie Rennie 4
28 March 2023[39]   Humza Yousaf 71
  Douglas Ross 31
  Anas Sarwar 22
  Alex Cole-Hamilton 4

Timeline of Scottish first ministers

Main article: List of first ministers of Scotland

Humza YousafNicola SturgeonAlex SalmondJack McConnellHenry McLeishJim WallaceDonald Dewar


  1. ^ The previous First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, froze her salary at £140,496 (2008–09 levels) when she took office and donated the additional pay back to the Scottish government.[2]

See also


  1. ^ "Nicola Sturgeon named as global advocate for UN gender equality campaign". BelfastTelegraph. 6 February 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2020. UN under-secretary-general Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said: "It is my honour to announce today her excellency Ms Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, as an inaugural HeForShe global advocate for gender equality.
  2. ^ "Five things about Scottish politicians' tax returns". BBC News Online. 7 February 2023.
  3. ^ "MSP salaries". The Scottish Parliament. 5 April 2023.
  4. ^ a b "About the Scottish Government > Who runs government > First Minister". Scottish Government. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  5. ^ "Humza Yousaf elected Scotland's first minister". BBC News. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  6. ^ Barker, Dan (28 March 2023). "Humza Yousaf to be sworn in as First Minister". The Independent. Retrieved 29 March 2023.
  7. ^ "Humza Yousaf sworn in as Scotland's first minister at Court of Session in Edinburgh". Sky News. Retrieved 29 March 2023.
  8. ^ "Scotland Act 1998".
  9. ^ "History – The Path to Devolution". Scottish Parliament. Archived from the original on 14 September 2007. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  10. ^ Ferguson, Ron (27 April 1998). "Through an open door". The Herald. Glasgow: Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  11. ^ Ascherson, Neal (17 July 1993). "A cry of 'Gerrymander' as Strathclyde is axed". The Independent. London. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  12. ^ "Devolution Guidance Note 3 – The role of the Secretary of State for Scotland" (PDF). Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA). October 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Section 45 – Scotland Act 1998". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 30 July 2007.
  14. ^ "Proportional Representation – What is Proportional Representation?". Politics UK. Archived from the original on 11 February 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  15. ^ a b "First Minister takes oath". Scottish Government. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  16. ^ a b "Scotland Act 1998 – Ordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  17. ^ "Scotland Act 1998 – Extraordinary General Elections". Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI). Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  18. ^ "About: Performance: Programme for Government". Scottish Government. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  19. ^ a b "World Statesmen – United Kingdom, Scotland". World Statesmen. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
  20. ^ Scotland Act 1998, section 45(7)
  21. ^ a b c d "The Scale of General Precedence in Scotland". Burkes Peerage. Archived from the original on 24 December 2010. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
  22. ^ "The Royal Banner of the Royal Arms of Scotland". The Royal Household. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  23. ^ "BUSINESS BULLETIN No. 48/2015" (PDF). Scottish Parliament. 17 March 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  24. ^ "Members' pay and expenses – current rates from 1 April 2013 RESEARCH PAPER 13/33". House of Commons. 31 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  25. ^ "The UK's highest paid politicians: Who gets what?". Newsbeat. BBC. 19 March 2015.
  26. ^ a b c d "Bute House Guidebook" (PDF). Scottish Government. 3 January 2003. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  27. ^ "Bute House". Office of the First Minister (Scottish Government). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  28. ^ "Elon Musk's Tesla is Scottish Government new car of choice". 18 March 2022.
  29. ^ "Elon Musk's Tesla is Scottish Government new car of choice". 18 March 2022.
  30. ^ "Dewar wins top job". BBC. 13 May 1999. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  31. ^ "McLeish wins first minister title". BBC. 26 October 2000. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  32. ^ "22 November 2001: McConnell elected First Minister". BBC. 31 October 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  33. ^ "Second term for McConnell". BBC News. 15 May 2003. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  34. ^ "Salmond elected as first minister". BBC. 16 May 2007. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  35. ^ "SNP leader Alex Salmond re-elected as first minister". BBC News. 18 May 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  36. ^ "Nicola Sturgeon is elected first minister of Scotland". BBC News. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  37. ^ "Nicola Sturgeon wins Scottish first minister vote". BBC News. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  38. ^ "Nicola Sturgeon re-elected as Scotland's first minister". BBC News. 18 May 2021. Retrieved 18 May 2021.
  39. ^ "Humza Yousaf confirmed as Scotland's new first minister". BBC News. 28 March 2023. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
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