ALISON Johnstone has been elected Holyrood's new Presiding Officer after emerging as the only candidate.

MSPs voted to install the Green politician this afternoon by 97 votes to 28, with two abstentions and one spoiled paper in the secret ballot.

The latter numbers, which add up to 31, suggest the Conservatives did not back her.

The tight arithmetic in Holyrood had led to a struggle to find a new Presiding Officer to replace Ken Macintosh. 

The position is the equivalent of the speaker at Westminster and is expected to be non-partisan. 

Ms Johnstone's ascension to the role will mean the SNP draws even in the number of Holyrood seats, with all opposition parties combined on 64.

Ms Johnstone told MSPs she was "very proud" to be elected.

She said she had joined the campaign for a devolved parliament in the late 1990s before joining the Scottish Greens. 

She added: "Here, today, I've been afforded a great opportunity and an incredible privilege, and one I will never, ever take for granted."

She said she was taking on "a major challenge at an incredibly important time in Scotland's history". 

Ms Johnstone referenced the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency, and said she wanted to encourage a "culture of open debate" in Holyrood, with an atmosphere of "inclusivity, mutual tolerance and respect". 

She also praised the diversity of the new Scottish Parliament, but said "we're not there yet" and Holyrood "can do better". 

Addressing MSPs, she added: "I will do my very best to make sure that each and every one of you has an opportunity to best represent your constituents, your interests and everything that is important to you."

Elsewhere, Ms Johnstone paid tribute to Mr Macintosh, her predecessor, and said she had "very large shoes to fill".

She is the first Green to be elected Presiding Officer but will now give up her party affiliation.

It comes after a struggle to find candidates for the job in the finely balanced parliament.

On Wednesday, one SNP source described it as a "who blinks first" situation.

They added: "Because of the tight arithmetic, we are kind of hoping that somebody else puts themselves forward."

If the SNP had lost an MSP to the role, its total number would have fallen to 63, two short of a majority. As an opposition member has now been elected, the numbers will be tied 64-64. 

This means SNP ministers will likely survive any future votes of no confidence, and opposition parties will not have sufficient numbers to repeal legislation.

Ms Johnstone, who will be entitled to a £112,919 salary, will face pressure to reform Holyrood amid concerns MSPs currently lack the ability to hold the Scottish Government to account. 

She could also find herself giving a view on the competence of legislation to pave the way for a second independence referendum. 

However, she will not have a veto over this. 

Ms Johnstone's latest role comes after a 10-year career at Holyrood as a Lothian MSP, and she has also represented the Meadows/Morningside ward on City of Edinburgh Council.

She is a qualified athletics coach and previously held the East of Scotland titles for the 800m and 1500m.

Some of her earlier campaigns as a parliamentarian included Fans First, a push for fan ownership of football clubs.

She also proposed a ban on fracking and campaigned against benefits sanctions in devolved employment schemes.

Ms Johnstone became co-leader of the Scottish Greens' parliamentary party in 2019, though she has now been replaced by Lorna Slater.

One of her most prominent campaigns was against the killing of mountain hares.

In 2019, she said: "Scotland is a nation of animal lovers and the public will be outraged that the Government continues to drag its feet on ending animal cruelty."

Her interest in wildlife issues also includes a call to end loopholes around fox hunting.

A consultation on her proposal to protect the animals led to nearly 10,000 responses from the public.

In March this year, it became illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence.

The changes were part of the Scottish Government's Animals and Wildlife Act, following pressure from Ms Johnstone's campaign.

In the last session of the Scottish Parliament, she was a member of the Alex Salmond inquiry, though Andy Wightman later took over her membership.

She is the second woman to hold the Presiding Officer role after Tricia Marwick, who was in post between 2011 and 2016.

George Reid, who served between 2003 and 2007, is the only other Presiding Officer to have been elected unopposed. 

Ms Johnstone's election is the first time a ballot has been spoiled in the choosing of a Presiding Officer. 

Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater said: "We congratulate Alison Johnstone on her election, and we are confident that she will be an even-handed moderator as Parliament addresses the pressing challenges that Scotland faces over the next five years."