PEOPLE who know me, freely acknowledge that,
occasionally, I can be recklessly generous. That is why, with the cost
of Scotlandís new Parliament building now rocketing to around £350
million and likely to go higher before leaving planet Earth, I often say
- with good-humoured indulgence - that nothing is too good for the
representatives of our purse-proud, bulging-walleted nation.
Do not, I urge doubters, stint when creating an edifice that
might resemble the inspirational delicacy of the Taj Mahal, the acoustic
practicality of the Tower of Babel, the security arrangements of a
Saddam Hussein palace and a better type of airport terminal. Since
landscaping the site is to cost over £14 million, I expect the result
will suggest the magnificence of Louis XIVís gardens at Versailles
blended with the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon.
Open-handed Albert has, until now, not minded dishing out the
dosh - itís only taxpayersí money, after all - but what he does object
to is the revelation that MSPs are to get their own "think bubbles",
each costing £17,000, where, during political lifeís fitful fever, they
can ponder over affairs of state.
Great Aristotelian heavens, what manner of a madcap mob is this?
Here we have 129 MSPs of varying talents, some as bright as burnished
brass, especially their necks, and others as dim as a nunís nightlight,
receiving a hostageís ransom in salaries, bloated pensions and travel
expenses beyond, I suspect, even their wildest dreams of avarice,
getting a pad, pod or bubble to keep their intellects comfy when it
would have been cheaper to have built a Jacuzzi-type think tank to
refresh those getting out of their depths.
On the Parliament building are windows, shaped, some cynics say,
like a candle flame in a holder during a search for a gas leak. Behind
many will be MSPs, in their pods possibly producing quality thoughts for
the benefit of our land of mountain and flood or merely saying to their
secretary - the pods are adjuncts of MSPsí offices - "I keep thinking
itís Thursday," or, "Good-oh; only five minutes more before packing-up
for the week."
In any case, why do MSPs - many of whom, in trial gallops, have
shown little capacity for overleaping high intellectual hurdles - need
to have their own "bubble" pads in which to ponder politics or possibly
indulge in pre-Socratic speculations?
Better intellects than theirs have needed less thinking space.
Diogenes of Sinope, the Greek philosopher (410-320 BC), lived in a
barrel; Archi-medes, the Greek mathematician (287-212 BC), worked out
the theory of displacement in his bath; and the Syrian ascetic and
fellow columnist, St Simeon Stylites (387-459 AD), spent 30 years on top
of a 72-feet-high pillar thinking lofty thoughts and scattering coined
phrases to grateful crowds.
MSPsí office space, at 15 square metres, is surely adequate for
their needs, and while the pods are only three metres high, two metres
wide and around one metre in depth - instantly recognisable as bay
windows - the point is not their smallness, but whether, considering
their cost, they should be there at all.
If the MSPs find it intellectually stultifying in their offices,
it should be possible to think politically-pragmatic thoughts over a
coffee and crumpet in the parliamentary cafeteria, strolling about the
gracious grounds or sitting in the reading room, to be graced by some of
the late Donald Dewarís books - tomes with elegant bindings, of
magisterial appearance and about subjects of high cerebral content,
rather than ones with titles like Lady, Keep on Kissing - thus creating
an atmosphere of quiet contemplation and a dampener on the febrile
fancies of our more volatile and vociferous representatives.
It is unclear whether any other world parliament has such
thought-provoking constructions, but as far as Holyroodís bubble-bound
building is concerned, I understand that only 57 offices will be so
extended instead of one for each of the 129 MSPs, a diminution, I
understand, resulting from criticisms of over-expenditure.
If so, what will be the criteria for pod preference - proven
intellectual ability leading to the delivery of red-hot ideas in the
debating chamber, or known sluggish mental capacity for which periods of
Trappist-like silence would not come amiss?
Whatever the decision, I sense - and I believe many will agree -
that in our hot-air-producing, ballooningly-expensive, political pagoda,
another credibility bubble has burst.