It was meant to be a seat of power built to cushion the most august posteriors in Scotland, whose purpose went unfulfilled as history took a different course.  

But now the Presiding Officer’s chair from what would have become the Scottish Parliament building in 1979 has been saved for the nation after being donated to National Museums Scotland.  

The sleek black chair, made in a futuristic style which typified the decade of its creation, was once intended to be the focal point of the new devolved parliament sitting at the former Royal High School building on Calton Hill in central Edinburgh. 

Plans were sufficiently advanced for the Debating Chamber to have been furnished and the chair installed, and all that was required was public backing for devolution for the Scottish Assembly - as the plan was then called - to take shape.  

READ MORE: The Old Royal High, once a wannabe parliament, reawakened

But although a majority backed devolution, the referendum was not run on a ‘winner takes all’ basis, with 40 per cent of voters needed to support the transfer of power from Westminster.    

When the entire electorate was taken into account, only 32% had voted for devolution, and the naysayers carried the day.  

The Herald:

It was not until 1997, when a fresh devolution vote was held, that Scotland was ready to see a Scottish Parliament come into being.  

But time and tastes had moved on and the Royal High School, along with its fixtures and furnishings, was deemed surplus to requirements as civic Scotland opted for a new, purpose-built Parliament at Holyrood. 

The building was overlooked after the first MSPs were elected in 1999, with the Scottish Parliament meeting in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile until 2004 while it awaited the completion of the Enrico Miralles-designed building.  

The chair has been moved the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh where it will undergo conservation treatment before being put on display. 

Georgia Vullinghs, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary History, said: “We’re very pleased to be able to acquire this object. The furniture represents a key moment in the story of devolution and the history of Scottish politics.  

“This large, blocky chair and its futuristic design is emblematic of a confidence in significant political change for Scotland in the late 1970s, but which did not ultimately happen at that time.  

“This generous donation will allow us to better tell the story of that fascinating moment in Scotland’s history through our collections.” 

The Herald:

The former Royal High School building is now undergoing a major restoration which will see it repurposed as a world-class centre for music education and public performance for the benefit of the whole of Scotland as the National Centre for Music.  

The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) is leading the project and took possession of the building in March. 

The A-listed landmark was built in 1829 by Thomas Hamilton but the school relocated in 1968. 

It later became home to the City Art Centre before being proposed as the home for the Scottish Parliament and then a new national photography centre. 

City of Edinburgh Council launched a competition seeking proposals for a hotel redevelopment back in 2009. 

The winner of the competition, Duddingston House Properties, was then granted a 125-year lease of the building, with Edinburgh City Council retaining ownership. 

The developer was unable to gain approval for various hotel schemes, and the council stripped the developer of its contract, and put the lease back on the market. 

READ MORE: Edinburgh Royal High national music centre plan

Although the Scottish Assembly never occupied the building, the site remained a focal point in the debate over devolution, with images of the building used in campaign material, and a Vigil for a Scottish Parliament was held outside for 1,980 days from 10 April 1992 until the 1997 referendum.  

The tent from the touring campaign and related material are on display in the National Museum of Scotland. 

The Herald:

William Gray Muir, Chair of the RHSPT said: “We are delighted that this piece of constitutional history will have a fitting home in the national museum, where it can help tell the story of how modern Scottish politics encountered the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment.  

“The significance of the Thomas Hamilton building – the Old Royal High – and its symbolic importance to our national political and social ambitions is indisputable and its past, present and future form a critical part of Edinburgh’s status in the world.  

“The Trust’s aim is that we add a new chapter to that story and the building’s relationship with Scottish heritage and our national museum will continue.”