#TheKeeper – The Great Seal of Scotland

Blog is by Sheenagh Adams, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland.

I will be present today when Nicola Sturgeon is sworn in for the second time as the first minister of Scotland. It’s a historic moment, and one that I am incredibly proud to be part of. But this isn’t a social visit. In my role as Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, I am also Deputy Keeper of the Scottish Seal, and I have a statutory duty to attend and ensure that the Scottish Seal is there too.

We talk about the ‘first minister’, but the formal title is actually First Minister and Keeper of the Scottish Seal. The seal – otherwise known as the Great Seal of Scotland – allows the monarch to authorise official documents without having to sign each one individually. By being Keeper of the Scottish Seal, Nicola Sturgeon will have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the crown. It all sounds very legal, but really it’s a symbolic tradition that means the first minister can lead the country with the support of parliament.

We still regularly use the seal to authenticate documents, for example when Queen’s Counsel are appointed. When it’s not being used, you can come and see it in our public exhibition at our Meadowbank House office.

This is the third time I have attended the swearing in of a first minister: once for Alex Salmond in 2011, and in 2014 when Nicola Sturgeon first came to office. For something so important in Scotland’s democracy, it’s actually quite understated. It takes place in the Court of Session in Edinburgh in front of senior judges and, of course, the seal, in all its glory. The elected first minister takes an oath of allegiance, promising to serve the monarch throughout her time in office, and then signs a parchment, officially confirming her position. The court then congratulates her on her appointment, wishes her well, and with that Scotland has a new first minister.

It only takes five minutes, but it’s a real honour to be there for something so momentous. Once it’s all over, the seal is returned to its home at Meadowbank House, ready for its next outing.

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