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BOOK

REVIEW

Holyrood: The Inside Story By Susan Bain.Edinburgh University Press, 2005. 302pp £12.99

Ever since the police were the subject of Roger Graef's fly-onthe-wall TV documentaries in the 1980s, the politics of the editing process has been the key issue. Writing a book derived from any fly-on-thewall TV material is no different, even if the subject is the Stirling Prize winner of 2005.

The Scottish Parliament story is starkly dramatic and truly tragic, with the deaths of Donald Dewar and Enric Miralles early in the process. Add to that the birth of a new democracy, with many democrats behaving badly and the local press stirring it, and you certainly get spice that makes good television and a great read.

Susan Bain was part of the film team that made The Gathering Place, the hard-hitting TV documentary on the parliament building. The book's blurb claims she is 'one of the only outsiders to be granted full and exclusive access to the inside story' - a curious claim, since she frequently reminds us of her team's exasperation at being constantly excluded from the key decision-making body, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, chaired by Sir David Steele.

With the TV team's closeness, particularly to the professionals of the design and construction teams, many comments are refreshingly blunt, honest, revealing and indiscreet; something we rarely get in Blair's on-message age.

The team's treatment by politicians and press is shocking.

Bain herself regularly puts the boot in to both institutions but is she sufficiently dispassionate as an observer? Does her enforced distance from key decision-making forums leave her too open toward others also excluded; and does all the spice, necessary for good telly and a good yarn, get in the way of the reader's inevitable desire for analysis? I think the publisher may have benefited from a stronger editor.

That said, Bain has clearly done a huge amount of extra homework for this book. The reference notes to chapters are copious and useful for others to pursue the many major questions left hanging. It's a racy read and she has done construction history a great service. But grasping some sense of priority in the sequence of events is challenging. To have no visual timelines and no drawings or photos of people and buildings in the book simply exacerbates a frequent sense of disorientation in the early chapters.

There are many extraordinarily heroic figures in this tale of a heroic project. Fall-out was inevitable.

But one person and his loyal team stand solid throughout.

Like Arthur's Seat that looms over the site, buffeted by every political storm but somehow with humour and great political cunning, Dr John Gibbons - that rare animal in the 21st century, a public architect with real power - seemed to weave and stitch together the fragments, when so often all seemed lost. Scotland owes him somthing that can never be repaid. The Inside Story makes that abundantly clear.

Patrick Hannay is editor of Touchstone and course director of interior architecture at the University of Wales, Cardiff

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