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Federalism takes on a new purpose


As delegates gather in Aberdeen for the annual convention of the rias, they do so in the knowledge that Scotland's relationship to England, Britain and Europe has been profoundly transformed, although the consequences of that transformation have yet to become apparent. The physical representation of it will be the new Scottish Parliament building, which is why the current competition is so significant. It is one of those occasions where criticisms of the site and of the running of the competition may pale into insignificance given the design quality of the winner. It is a matter for regret that some excellent Scottish practices are absent from the shortlist, but the list is of high quality. There are echoes of the Museum of Scotland competition, also enmeshed in controversy following the unfortunate behaviour of the Prince of Wales. Steady nerves and a superb winner are now reaping a fine architectural reward in Edinburgh.

The question of representation is going to surface repeatedly as we adjust to the new constitution of Britain. Curiously, Europeans seldom turn to the United States for inspiration and guidance in this area (though a two-day conference on this subject is, coincidentally, taking place at the riba). We have nothing to teach Americans about the relationship between constituent parts of an overarching state, in respect of law, currency or taxation; by contrast we have plenty to learn from their long history of state rights and federal law, fought in blood and constantly tested in the courts.

One of the lessons we can learn is that independence implies responsibilities as well as rights; independence within a greater whole demands each-way respect - and tact. Fraternal relations between the riba and the rias have sometimes been strained because of a high-handed attitude towards Scotland (and other regions) on the part of Portland Place. The new constitutional relationship nationally will be reflected in the role and relationship of professional bodies. This is something to work at, not take for granted.

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