Queen officially opens fourth Scottish Parliament term

The Queen has performed the official opening of the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament, saying Holyrood had become integral to public life.

Her speech came as part of a day of events to celebrate the occasion.

It was the Queen's first visit to parliament since the SNP's landslide election win in May.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Scotland and the Queen would remain "firm friends", whatever the outcome of his planned independence referendum.

Delivering her speech to politicians and dignitaries in the parliament's main chamber, the Queen, who was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, said: "No-one would ever argue that Scottish politics is the business of the meek, the passive or the faint-hearted."

She told the chamber: "Now, in its second decade, the Scottish Parliament is firmly established as an integral part of Scottish public life.

"The maturity of the legislation passed in this chamber and the well-tested processes giving rise to it are evidence of the Scottish Parliament having truly come of age. This is an achievement of which all members, past and present, should be proud."

In a message to MSPs, she added: "To the new and returning members of the Scottish Parliament, I offer the observation that, in return for the authority placed upon you, a very great deal is asked of Scotland's elected politicians, perhaps as much now as ever before.

"As a close observer of every stage of this parliament's life, I remain confident that you will manage to discharge your duty diligently and competently, and serve the interests of the people of Scotland to the best of your ability."

In his address, Mr Salmond praised the Queen's role as "the firmest of friends" to the Scottish Parliament, while expressing his aspiration for Scotland to grow further as a nation.

"This is a country increasingly comfortable in its own skin," said the first minister.

"There is much we share, that is a given, but the nations of these islands are also distinctive, with our own unique history and culture, our own economic challenges and opportunities.

"Some of us believe the best way to articulate that uniqueness and tackle those challenges lies within ourselves - and should be fully expressed through the work of this parliament."

Mr Salmond quoted back to the Queen words she used in her recent state visit to Ireland, describing links between "firm friends and equal partners".

In a reference to the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, the first minister added: "However, whatever constitutional path the people of Scotland choose - and it is their choice to make - we will aspire to be, in your words, 'firm friends and equal partners'."

The first minister also noted that, during the previous Scottish parliament before the Act of Union in 1707, the Queen's predecessors had "reigned over two sovereign nations - though there was nothing particularly unusual in that arrangement".

As well as speeches in the main chamber, guests and MSPs heard a performance of Robert Burns' "Now Westlin Winds" by award-winning folk singer Karine Polwart, and the reading of a specially-written poem by Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, entitled "Opening the Doors Again!".

Also making a speech, the Scottish Parliament's new presiding officer, Tricia Marwick, welcomed the Queen, while warning that the years ahead would not be easy.

"The people of Scotland are experiencing a time where their incomes and lifestyles have felt the full effects of the difficult economic period through which we have all been living," she said.

"And, during the times ahead, people will, quite rightly look to this parliament for leadership."

Events inside the parliament were followed by the traditional Riding event - a procession down the Royal Mile to the parliament intended to symbolise the parliament's connection with the people of Scotland - featuring 1,500 politicians, performers, members of the public and "local heroes" nominated by MSPs.

There was also an afternoon of free entertainment at Holyrood, featuring choirs, orchestras, and contemporary bands, including Crayons and French Wives.

The Scottish Parliament has now gone into recess until September.

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