Siol nan Gaidheal

The Caledonian Dome

When Donald Dewar announced in 1997 that the “rebirth” of Scottish Democracy was to be accompanied by the prospect of a shining modernist statement of Scotland’s new-found confidence and self-governing (sic) status, few people in the Brit media and commercial establishment questioned the viability, whether aesthetic or financial, of a parliament building whose planning impetus amounted to little more than a hastily draughted sketch of upturned boats. Few other than the SNP and the odd sceptic in opposition would, in the post-referendum parliament sited on the Mound, seek to challenge Viceroy Dewar’s pithy view that the old Royal High School buildings on Calton Hill, which had been in readiness for devolution for two decades, were nothing other than a “Nationalist Shibboleth”. The public in this matter, as in so many others, have quite simply been bypassed, witnessing as they have done over the last few months, the growing political unease at a project which from day one was to be the symbol of the, ahem, “new Scotland”, but which in reality was always going to be the megalomaniac self-promotion of parish councillor Dewar and his fawning band of media and civil service lickspittles.

Why listen to the clearly manifested preference of the vast majority of people in Scotland (leaving aside the largely fatuous notions of creating a permanent parliament outside the nation’s historic capital) for the neo-Athenian splendour of Calton Hill and all its architectural associations with classical democracy? Why indeed listen to the majority view, the politically incorrect common-sense view of the great unwashed who clearly can be consulted to vote Yes for limited cosmetic autonomy and even fantasy fiscal powers, but equally cannot in any way be trusted to rubber-stamp the architectural ego-trips of happening liberal Don and his swaggering posse of hipster modernists. Better leave the important decisions to Kirsty Wark and other media Labourites (or is that a tautology?) whose cappuccino-imbibed prejudices are self-evidently more reliable in delivering the appropriate design brief than, tut, tut, a largely pragmatic and value-seeking general public.

Employ a Scottish architect to design the new building? You have got to be joking. That would be tantamount to admitting the parish council was, well, parochial. We wouldn’t want our Catalonian and Bavarian friends thinking that Europe’s newest and trendiest regional subsidy area was somehow navel-gazing or anything like that. Conceive a building in keeping with at least some of the broad design conventions of indigenous Scottish architecture? Respect the organic, centuries-old development of architectural expression in one of the Capital’s most culturally-sensitive areas – the Old Town? Source materials and labour locally thereby bringing Scottish solutions to the implementation of an overall vision? And crucially, have, erm, designs and budgetary calculations established before parliamentary, if not public approval? No, no, no. Rather present the fait accompli of a Hispano-Catalan design fascist “winning” a stage-managed architectural competition as some kind of arty coup for Scotland, wheel out all the tiresome apologists of “Scottish architecture needing to reflect its modern, dynamic outward-looking self”, give the Edinburgh bourgeoisie the consultative honour of “ooh-ing and aah-ing” over a plastic model of upturned rowing boats representative, in the mind of a solipsistic Barcelonese buttock fetishist, of Caledonia stern and wild, and then declare that the whole devolutionary dome project will cost the public purse a trifling 10 to 40 million, all told.

Trouble is, Dewar’s monument to quaint Scoto-British autonomy and to his laughably touted status as “Father of the Nation” is now being brought under concerned scrutiny for the catalogue of quite breathtaking budgetary miscalculations, which have seen the completion date for this post-modern folly put back to Nevermas, and the cost escalate first to 60 million, then 120 million, then 200 million, and , if the latest estimates are to be believed, 230 million. The Unionist Executive, Donald foremost, have through the mouthpiece of compliant civil servants quite knowingly deceived “parliament” and more importantly an incredulous public. With the site at the foot of the Royal Mile a mere hole in the ground, and with Enric Miralles’ final design still a matter of conjecture, for all but the inner clique of Dewar’s sleaze-ridden government by obfuscation, it is clear that decisive political intervention is required to stop this nonsense spiralling even further out of control.

Siol nan Gaidheal have, however, no expectation of any such action forthcoming from a structurally Unionist and politically acquiescent “Scottish” assembly where those who genuinely oppose the profligacy and ineptitude of the current executive are ignored by a majority of transparently careerist yes-men intent on getting that bit more elbow-room in the parliamentary office space of Don and Enric’s magical British fundome at Hollyrood. No chance of Dewar being reprimanded by “parliament”, no chance of his announcing a budgetary cap on his “baby”, no chance of his sacking incompetent accountants or indeed seeking honourable resignation for such gross mismanagement and verifiable incompetence. There is however, and predictably, every likelihood that he will get off metaphorically and literally Scot-free, such is the degree also to which foreign imperatives are at work in the whole process, from English building workers being paid at Scottish tax-payers’ expense, to read “The Daily Sport” around a huge rainwater-filled crater, to the bloated self-importance of a bitchy latter-day Dali (without the talent) who ups his costings and hence fees when anyone local dares to suggest that Queensbury House cannot be torn down simply because his creative vision is being sullied by a superfluous historic edifice.

Time the whole sorry affair was seen for what it is ; a badly misjudged, self-indulgent, criminally ill-costed and wholly embarrassing project for Scotland. The alternatives, however provisional in the bigger picture of our country acceding to genuine political sovereignty, are there for all to see, the costs minimal to a general public still awaiting meaningful work from Blair’s grace-and-favour “parliament”. A walk on Calton Hill, however theatrically symbolic of our Nation’s aspirations, might clear the heads of those who were elected to serve, but we doubt it. Roll on independence, and the building of genuine and representative Scottish democracy, in deed, word and stone.

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