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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 74 - Holyrood tale of cupidity, ineptitude and sloth


LOOK; I sympathise. I recall the leaden dread experienced when new neighbours come. It is bad enough when they are next door, but worse when above or beneath and the late-night drum practice and the small hours’ DIY begin and the dawn washing-machine rumbles into first spin cycle.

When they build on an adjoining site, some dwelling they consider the ultimate in architectural chic and domestic functionality but which you consider has the grace of a Siegfried Line pill-box and a supermarket loading shed, then aesthetic values are likely to clash like armoured knights in a tilting tournament.

That is why I, albeit a republican, empathise with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who, according to press reports, consider that with the locating of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, bang has gone the neighbourhood. The Queen is said to have described the building as unsightly, over-scaled in relation to the area and out of character with Edinburgh’s the Old Town.

To crown it all, the Royals are said to dislike the building being almost within earshot of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. They could thus be exposed to the tone-lowering sight of MSPs going about their business in the area, muttering over expense claims, salary rises and discussing other matters of weight, including future overseas freebies such as a study of banking in Ghana or a third world urban renewal conference in the Maldives. A large tree is said to have been ordered by the palace to block the view of the new building, although a line of giant Leylandii trees to create a cordon sanitaire would, I believe, be more appropriate.

The royal attitude to the building remains unconfirmed by Buckingham Palace, the reports relying on leaks from guests at a Holyroodhouse dinner party and a quote from a "Parliament insider" referring to palace concerns about the building.

As an outsider but close scrutiniser of the construction of this hole-in-corner colossus, from first dig to the latest architectural extravagances, I await, with deepening disillusion, the emergence of what I hope will be a shimmering pagoda of political persuasion, administrative efficiency and architectural elegance that will gladden the eye, uplift the spirit and symbolise a renascent, openly-governed Scotland.

The aesthetic bruising the Royals are alleged to have been enduring is compounded by the palace being near Dynamic Earth, the exhibition and conference centre, which, in my essentially-biased view, resembles a great white whale, beached and harpooned, clashes with the urban aspect of Holyrood Road and the Holyrood Park landscape and does not excite so much as irritate.

Go to the Calton Hill, on which the bulk of Edinburgh opinion, I am convinced, still believes the new Parliament should have been situated, and see the famed skyline. From there, Dynamic Earth is viewed in more pleasing perspective as a small, white grub and the Parliament building seen, possibly at its best, as an amorphous blob.

There may, nevertheless, be artistic spin-offs from this sorry saga. It is a pulsating tale of cupidity, ineptitude and sloth, of how a construction company mysteriously won a major Holyrood contract despite its tender being initially rejected as too expensive, the curious affair of a banana-curved architectural plan for the debating chamber going pear-shaped, how Donald Dewar, the former Scottish Secretary and "father of the nation", apparently succumbed to the persuasive, aesthetic charm of Enric Miralles, financially-challenged Spaniard in the works, whose extra pay demands as chief architect, held up work, and revelation of the dark side of Mr Dewar - a man who may have deliberately told a cryptic joke involving the words, "Broccoli Spears". Add to that, resignations, cost-control exposures, cover-ups, door-slammings, dramatic comings - and you’d better believe it - scandalous goings, rows, rifts, toil, sweat, gin and maybe tears and, above all, like a python uncoiling, the project’s ever-increasing cost, now £400 million.

Since this is the stuff of "tell-all" book, novel, film plot or theatre drama, another design change should be contemplated - a parliamentary theatre, where the story, filmed or staged, of how not to construct a Parliament building, could run and run.

The Queen is scheduled to open the building in October. If the artistic enclave could be completed in time, the newcomers could invite the Royal couple to the first show. It would be an act of gracious goodness.


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