Almost 50 MSPs snubbed the Queen's visit to Holyrood yesterday to mark the 10th anniversary of devolution.

No more than 80 of the country's 129 MSPs were at the parliament to celebrate the decade since full legislative powers were returned to Scotland for the first time in 300 years.

To cover the embarrassment of a chamber which would have been one-third empty as the Queen made her speech, seats which should have been occupied by MSPs were filled by Holyrood staff, though there still remained pockets of vacant chairs.

The MSPs' absence was in sharp contrast to the 10-year-old children who had travelled from all over Scotland and as far away as the United States, Canada, Germany and the Faroe Islands to take part in the birthday party.

More than 140 of them, who were born exactly 10 years ago yesterday, attended the event.

Among the MSPs missing were SNP Government ministers and senior Labour Party members.

Just more than half the SNP's 47 MSPs were present. An SNP spokesperson excused the absence of ministers by saying they were carrying out government business.

Parliament minister Bruce Crawford was attending the Somme commemoration in France, while environment minister Roseanna Cunningham was visiting Wilsontown Ironworks in Lanarkshire.

The spokesperson said other MSPs had "unbreakable" constituency engagements such as Kilmarnock and Loudoun's Willie Coffey who was meeting officials of drinks giant Diageo to discuss the 900 job losses announced yesterday at its Kilmarnock plant.

A Labour spokesman claimed it had the largest attendance of any party for the ceremony with 29 out of 46 MSPs present.

He said: "Four could not attend as they had constituency business, one was speaking at a conference, another had business at the House of Lords and three could not make it for medical reasons.

"There were a further eight who had already booked their holidays as the Parliament is in recess and it was before we were notified about the Queen's visit."

Among those missing were former leader Wendy Alexander and health spokesperson Cathy Jamieson.

Eleven of 16 Liberal Democrat MSPs were present, and 13 out of the 16 Tories were also in the chamber. Of the two Greens, Robin Harper was there, Patrick Harvie was not.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: "Obviously we would have liked a bigger turnout but nothing has detracted from the fact this was a highly successful day which involved many 10-year-olds from across Scotland and beyond who share our July 1 birthday."

The Queen, who appeared to be struggling with a cold, urged the Parliament to continue to reflect the "priorities and aspirations" of all the people of Scotland.

She said: "Over this last decade, members of the Scottish Parliament past and present have worked hard to address the issues of real importance to the Scottish people and have firmly embedded this Parliament as an institution at the heart of Scottish life and culture."

In his reply, First Minister Alex Salmond said the Parliament had achieved some "notable legislative successes" including the ban on smoking in public places and claimed it would lead the world in reducing carbon emissions.

He recalled the "words of support" the Queen gave when she visited a parliamentary sitting in Aberdeen in 2002, just months after the departure of former First Minister Henry McLeish and amid the continuing controversy over the costs of the building.

He added: "Who knows, perhaps you will find some words of encouragement for another parliament elsewhere?"

As Holyrood marked its anniversary, an opinion poll last night showed more than two-thirds of voters say it had achieved little or nothing since devolution.

The TNS System 3 survey for STV's Politics Now programme revealed 53% of Scots think Holyrood has achieved little and a further 15% thought nothing.