No one disputes there are ideological differences either side of Hadrian’s Wall, writes Will Hurst
The news that a group of architects has formed a dedicated lobby in favour of Scottish independence is an intriguing development. Up until now, architects in Scotland have mainly kept their views on this vital political question under wraps, although debate - as the AJ has noted - has been simmering under the surface. The launch of the ‘Architects for Yes’ campaign in Edinburgh last week looks set to change all that and bring the profession’s arguments to the boil.
The group’s manifesto says independence will create the opportunity to create ‘a built environment considered not as a commodity to be bought and sold for excessive profit, but one that is responsive to the country’s aspirations towards a more equal and democratic society’.
These are fine and no doubt sincere words, but the referendum represents a once-in-a-lifetime vote and many of the group’s arguments seem to be part of a backlash against a Tory-led coalition in Westminster that has only been in power since 2010.
Malcolm Fraser, one of the leaders of the group, provocatively told the AJ this week: ‘I don’t want to over-emphasise differences or get misty-eyed, but I do think we [in Scotland] care a bit more for people and less to demonise the poor and the disadvantaged.’
No one disputes there are ideological differences either side of Hadrian’s Wall - Scotland currently boasts only one Conservative MP, for example - but Fraser’s claim will not win him many friends.
While he has since clarified that he does not believe the Scots are intrinsically more caring than the English, the claim also smacks architects in a particularly sensitive area, because it addresses what many view as their vocational calling: their desire to change the world for the better.
But if ‘Architects for Yes’ is to be believed, independence truly is a win-win scenario for the profession because it will benefit not only the poor and needy but also that other marginalised band of people on the fringes of society - architects themselves.
The group says a self-governing Scotland holds ‘huge opportunities’ for architects, while its Facebook page (currently boasting 291 ‘likes’) contains a revealing post by a supporter named Andrew Bennett.
‘I am tired of successive Westminster governments systematically destroying the architecture profession,’ Bennett writes. ‘We should be on a par with lawyers, accountants, doctors, but we are not. We are kicked, ridiculed, beaten, insulted and poorly paid for what we actually do. This will never change unless we can enact a change.
‘I would like to see the profession treated fairly and given the respect it deserves. I would like to see a note within a new Scottish Constitution that defines architecture and the importance it plays in all our lives.’
Bennett does have the sense to note that this is a ‘selfish’ reason to vote yes but the post nevertheless sits oddly with Fraser’s high-minded arguments. What they arguably share in common is a harking-back to a bygone era where the state enabled architects to wield power.
What Architects for Yes fails to explain is why and how an independent Scotland would deliver this.
Ahead of next month’s referendum on Scottish independence, the AJ will be producing a special issue on 12 September which will include the results of a survey of our readers which you can take part in here: TheAJ.co.uk/Scotland.
Tell us what independence would really mean for Scottish architects