The Queen makes a very Scottish gesture

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DONALD DEWAR was officially confirmed as Scotland's First Minister yesterday when the Queen travelled to Edinburgh to appoint the Labour leader.

Whereas prime ministers normally go to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen, the monarch received her chief minister in Scotland at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, her official Edinburgh residence.

The gesture was a mark of the Queen's determination to play an important role in the political life of Scotland following devolution. Mr Dewar, who resigned yesterday as Secretary of State for Scotland, a post he had held since 1997, received the royal warrant of appointment from the Queen - a parchment document wrapped in a green ribbon, before the two held private discussions.

The Queen was saluted by a ceremonial guard from the Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment when she left the 40-minute meeting.

The First Minister travelled a short distance up the Royal Mile, to the Court of Session, where he was sworn in by Scotland's senior judge, Lord Rodger, the Lord President, who presented him with the Seal of Scotland.

Mr Dewar's deputy, Jim Wallace, and representatives from Scotland's legal establishment, packed the magnificent surroundings of the court for the brief ceremony during which Mr Dewar swore a total of three separate oaths before 11 judges - an oath of allegiance to the Crown, an official oath of office, and the oath as Keeper of the Scottish Seal.

After the ceremony, Mr Dewar praised the Queen for her part in the day's events. He said: "She was extraordinarily kind today. I was quite touched when she came up from London for the little ceremony to meet me. She obviously has a great interest in events."

Mr Dewar said that his priorities were now to make the Parliament effective. "When the 1st of July comes and we get our full powers, we will be ready for it. You can't do this as just a small group of politicians, there has to be a force for change - at the end of the day it is a political opportunity that has got to be taken."

Following weekend reports of tensions already emerging in the coalition between Labour and and the Liberal Democrats, Mr Dewar added: "Obviously, I am very conscious of the challenge. Negotiations with the Liberal Democrats will, I hope, promote stable government. It's very much a case of getting down to work for Scotland."

After the ceremony, Mr Dewar spent the day at Bute House, his official Edinburgh residence, individually meeting appointees to his Cabinet team.

It was announced last night that the Lib Dem leader, Jim Wallace, would be Minister for Justice.

Henry McLeish will be Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, which will take in the review of student tuition fees. The former Scottish Office Health minister, Sam Galbraith, will be Minister for Children and Education, also taking in Culture and the Arts, Sports and Lottery funding.

Jack McConnell, former Scottish Labour General Secretary, will be Minister for Finance, including responsibility for the pounds 15bn Scottish budget. The Minister for Health and Community Care will be Susan Deacon while the second Lib Dem seat in the Cabinet goes to Ross Finnie, who will be Minister for Rural Affairs.

Wendy Alexander, former Special Adviser to Mr Dewar at the Scottish Office, will be Minister for Social Inclusion, Local Government and Housing, with special responsibility for equality issues and the voluntary sector.

Sarah Boyack will be Minister for Transport and the Environment with responsibility for the development of an integrated transport policy.

The business manager for Government Chief Whip, will be Hamilton South MSP Tom McCabe. Lord Hardie was confirmed in the post of Lord Advocate, the position he held in the Scottish Office.