EDINBURGH – Queen Elizabeth II addressed the Scottish Parliament on Saturday to mark the devolved chamber’s 20th anniversary and told Scotland’s lawmakers that she had watched the country “grow and prosper” with great pleasure.
The milestone in Scottish politics comes at a time of political uncertainty as the United Kingdom prepares to withdraw from the European Union, something that has revived calls for independence in Scotland.
“It has been with great pleasure that over the years I have watched Scotland grow and prosper, and have been with you at each stage of your parliamentary life, including on landmark occasions such as today,” the British monarch said, accompanied by her son, Prince Charles, who is Duke of Rothesay, the title given to the heir apparent in Scotland.
Dressed in electric blue with a floral hat, the queen presided over a ceremony steeped in symbolism.
“Twenty years on, this chamber continues to be at the center of Scottish public life, as an important forum to engage and unite diverse communities and also a home for passionate debate and discussion,” she said.
The presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, Ken Macintosh, welcomed the queen to Holyrood, which was given legal powers two years after Scots voted in favor of devolution in a 1997 referendum.
The ceremony featured the Scottish Parliament’s Mace, which was gifted to the chamber by the queen during its inauguration in 1999. The Crown of Scotland, which recognizes UK monarch’s reign over Scotland, also made an appearance.
A group of 20-year-olds born on the day Holyrood opened for the first time was invited to watch the proceedings, which included acts of music and poetry.
Following the queen’s speech, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, commented on the history of the parliament.
“There were times perhaps, especially in the first few years of the parliament, when the sense of challenge possibly outweighed the sense of optimism,” she said. “Although this parliament is only 20 years young, it has long come of age.”
Sturgeon’s SNP is of the view that Brexit is against the will of the Scottish people, where 62 percent of voters backed Remain in the 2016 referendum.
As the governing force in the devolved parliament, the SNP has already pledged to hold a second independence referendum by 2021.
Around 55 percent of Scottish voters rejected independence when the question was put to the public in 2014, before Brexit.
The current parliament building, located in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, was completed in 2004 and cost 431 million pounds at the time.