Explainer: Timings for selection and appointment of a new First Minister

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A previous SPICe blog explained how the Parliament will nominate and select a First Minister. This blog looks at the timings around the nomination, selection and appointment of a new First Minister, and what happens after the Parliament has selected its nominee.


The SNP has indicated that the ballot of its members to elect a new party leader will close at noon on Monday 27 March 2023. The SNP has stated that the result of the SNP’s selection process for a new party leader will be known later on 27 March 2023.

Resignation of First Minister

Shortly after the announcement of a new SNP leader, it is expected that Nicola Sturgeon MSP will formally tender her resignation as First Minister of Scotland to the King. This is a requirement under section 45(2) of the Scotland Act 1998.

As explained in the previous blog, the First Minister is appointed by the King, on the recommendation of the Scottish Parliament.

“The Presiding Officer shall recommend to Her Majesty the appointment of any member of the Parliament who is nominated by the Parliament under this section.”

Scotland Act section 46(4)

Section 46 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides that where a First Minister resigns, the Parliament has 28 days to nominate a Member as successor. As such, the First Minister’s formal resignation will trigger a chain of events at the Scottish Parliament.

Parliamentary business

The business for Thursday 23 March 2023 (agreed by the Parliament on 14 March 2023) indicates that following First Minister’s Questions there will be a statement from the First Minister and response.

Given that the timetable for the selection of a new SNP leader is known, the Parliamentary Bureau has already allocated time for the selection of a nominee to be appointed as First Minister.

Business motion S6M-08322, lodged on 21 March 2023 and agreed in the Chamber on 22 March 2023, indicated that the Parliament will select a new First Minister on the afternoon of Tuesday 28 March. This motion provides the date and time for the voting period (i.e., the time when members of the Scottish Parliament vote) to select a nominee for First Minister as specified in Chapter 4 of the Scottish Parliament’s Standing Orders.

Time is allocated on Thursday 30 March 2023 for the appointment of Ministers and Junior Ministers.


The timeline below explains the anticipated timeline for the nomination, selection and appointment of a new First Minister. Some of the timings may change.

The rules and exact process for the Parliamentary proceedings are set out in SPICe’s previous blog.

Who can be nominated as a candidate?

Any member of the Parliament can nominate a candidate for appointment as First Minister. This must be done by submitting a written nomination to the Clerk. For a nomination to be valid, it must be seconded by another member of the Parliament.

Nominations must be submitted no later than 30 minutes before voting to select a candidate for appointment as First Minister begins. After the Presiding Officer announces valid nominations received, each candidate is able to make a short speech.

Who has previously stood as a candidate for appointment as First Minister?

The Parliament selected its first candidate for nomination as First Minister on 13 May 1999. On that occasion four candidates stood – Dennis Canavan, Donald Dewar David McLetchie and Alex Salmond. Donald Dewar was successful.

On 26 October 2000, following the death of Donald Dewar, the Parliament met to select a candidate for appointment as First Minister for a second time. Henry McLeish was selected for appointment as First Minister against three other candidates, namely Dennis Canavan, David McLetchie and John Swinney.

The Parliament then selected Jack McConnell on two occasions. First on the afternoon of 22 November 2001 following the resignation of Henry McLeish when Mr McConnell was successful against Dennis Canavan, David McLetchie and John Swinney. Mr McConnell was selected for a second time on 15 May 2003 following a general election, although on that occasion there were seven candidates as indicated by the Presiding Officer, George Reid:

I have received seven nominations for the appointment of First Minister. In alphabetical order, they are: Dennis Canavan, Robin Harper, Margo MacDonald, Mr Jack McConnell, David McLetchie, Tommy Sheridan and Mr John Swinney.

Official Report 15 May 2003

When Alex Salmond was first selected as candidate for appointment as First Minister on 16 May 2007 (following a general election), four candidates stood, Annabel Goldie, Jack McConnell, Alex Salmond and Nicol Stephen. Following the general election in May 2011 and the SNP securing the first majority at the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond stood unopposed as candidate for First Minister and was selected on 18 May 2011.

Nicola Sturgeon has been selected as nominee for First Minister on three occasions. First, in November 2014, following the resignation of Alex Salmond as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon was successful against one other candidate, Ruth Davidson. Following the general election in 2016 Nicola Sturgeon was again selected as nominee for First Minister at a meeting of the Parliament on 17 May 2016. On that occasion there were two candidates, Willie Rennie and Nicola Sturgeon. At the start of this session of the Parliament, on 18 May 2021, Nicola Surgeon was selected as nominee for First Minister for a third time – the Presiding Officer announced that there were three candidates nominated for appointment as First Minister:

I have received three valid nominations for selection of the Parliament’s nominee for First Minister. I will now announce the nominations in alphabetical order. They are Willie Rennie, Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon. I will ask each member to speak in support of their candidacy, for up to five minutes.

Official Report, 18 May 2021

What happens after the Scottish Parliament has selected a nominee for appointment as First Minister?

Once the Parliament has agreed a candidate for nomination as First Minister (the official title is First Minister and Keeper of the Scottish Seal), the Presiding Officer recommends to the King that the Member be appointed. The First Minister is then appointed by Royal Warrant and sworn in at the Court of Session.

The appointment is made by…Royal Warrant. The Warrant is presented to the Lord President in the Court of Session when the First Minister is sworn in.

Scottish Ministerial Code, 2018

This process will see the appointment of the sixth First Minister of Scotland.

Sarah McKay, SPICe research