Scotland: it’s starting to irritate me
As the shift to independence gathers pace, all sides are using architecture as a political tool
On Monday, Alex Salmond announced the construction of 12 new schools in Scotland. “These additional projects are entirely possible due to the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure investment in Scotland,” he said.
A good news story! But he launched within BD’s web pages a tennis match about who in the UK is subsidising whom.
Last Friday the shortlist was announced for the Doolan Prize, Scotland’s annual architectural award. Thirteen projects were included, from Shetland to the Borders.
A good news story, isn’t it? But already an Architects’ Journal editorial has commented that “in many ways, the shortlisted projects are worthy of attention; just don’t kid on they are world class, as [Neil] Baxter — and his jury — does”, and even Rab Bennetts, who last month accused the Stirling Prize jury of London-centrism, has written that the shortlist is too long.
And last week, the first of Edinburgh’s trams arrived at their Gogar depot — now that’s a miraculous piece of good news for a project that sorely needs some.
But the former chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling has called for an inquiry into the scheme, sure that the Scottish Nationalist government is to blame for the fiasco it has become, and equally sure that it won’t accede to his request until the local elections are past next year. He seems to have forgotten that it was a Lib-Lab pact that forced the minority Nats into continuing the project back in 2007.
Good news stories all. But, in Scotland, when we see a fur coat, we can’t resist muttering “nae knickers”; and we can’t resist averring that a sunny day will turn to rain in the morning.
The truth is, we’re being softened up — and so, dear Sassenachs, are you. It was the Scottish National party’s annual conference this week, and they used it to launch a campaign.
“Scotland: it’s starting” they call it, and they expect it to end in the referendum on independence. Is it any coincidence that folks are kicking off with promises about new schools, demands for inquiries, and complaints about metropolitanism? Salmond, canny operator that he is, won’t yet put a date on his referendum; but the stakes are slowly rising; and architecture is playing its part.
I, for one, am pretty sure that independence — or at least, as we are learning to call it, devo max — will happen, and there are plenty of reasons why it should: fiscal autonomy seems like a good idea, particularly these days. I don’t think I’m the only one up here, or down there, who thinks so.
But the more each side of the border, or the political divide, poses as the victim, the less enthusiastic I become. If we can afford more schools, let’s have them. If a building is good enough, make sure an impartial jury gives it an award. A tramline is not an ideological faultline.
Building — buildings or nations — is difficult and expensive enough as it is. It should surely be the manifestation of positive aspiration rather than a tool of bitter resentment.