“Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!
We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer, between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.”
When the then Scots Makar, Edwin Morgan, wrote those words for the opening of the new Scottish Parliament building in 2004, he succinctly captured the zeitgeist. There was a tangible energy about Scotland; about its politics, about its identity and about how it wanted to project itself on the world stage. The new building reflected all of that in its boldness of design, in its openness, its accessibility and the contrast between its modern architectural take on how a parliament should look and the ancient buildings it nestled among.
The Scottish Parliament building may not have been without its controversy but that was about ‘trifling’ matters, of bricks and mortar and the value of money. What it represented was so much more substantial. It showed Scotland as a nation and not just concerned with gazing at its own navel. Here was a country ready to take on responsibilities and be big and brave enough to stand on its own two feet – albeit with strings attached – and here was a country mature enough to have its own parliament which would not be elitist or closed to the many and only open to the few. This was Scotland ready to make public the business of politics and be more than willing to welcome in the world.
This popularist approach was no accident.
The re-opening of the Scottish Parliament after nearly 300 years had come from a civic movement; a desire by the people for control over some of its own affairs. It was born out of a political groundswell from the bottom up that had been energised into taking to the streets and marching for the right of Scots to have their own parliament that would work in partnership with Westminster and we got one.
We got powers to take more control of our own affairs and with those powers the parliament equipped itself well, with groundbreaking legislation about banning smoking in public places, providing free personal care for the elderly and re-affirming the Scottish commitment that free education should be a right for all and not just a privilege for some. Historic times. Exciting times.
But since then the Scottish Parliament has also borne witness to a visceral, tribal politics that has often stymied debate, never mind progress. An oscillation between two big parties that squeezed little voices out from a parliament that was designed to let those independent voices be heard. For some the establishment of a Scottish parliament has just meant business as usual and that has turned people off.
There are many people that believe ‘politics is not for them’ in the same way as opera, theatre and art are seen as too high-brow, elitist and alienating.
But this Scottish Parliament was established by a desire to bring politics to the common man, to make it accessible and to be empowering but if statistics are a judge of participation then Scotland is struggling to keep that original political spark alive.
Electoral turn-out at elections; General, Scottish Parliament, European and local government, have dwindled to derisory levels. In the most recent council elections turnout dropped in some areas to less than 30 per cent and that is despite the current, vibrant and ongoing debate about the constitution. If people can’t be turned on now, then when can they be?
The Festival of Politics, started in 2005, was an innovative, forward thinking, way to reengage the public with politicians and the power base that is the Scottish Parliament and so far 250,000 people have taken part. It shows that politics can be vibrant and engaging and part of our everyday lives.
The theme for this year’s festival is Culture, Politics and Creativity: A Force for Positive Change. It is a way of opening the doors and welcoming the people in. It is a reminder that this is the people’s parliament and that by coalescing politics, creativity and the arts, there is a revisiting of Edwin Morgan’s sentiments and words.
“All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past.
Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.
What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.”
Since last time…teen returns from cultural exchange trip to China with chavtastic fake Ralph Lauren bag for me and a figurine that pees water from an unfeasibly large penis when squeezed in the middle for his dad…