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Scottish architects: SNP victory ‘seminal for profession’

The SNP’s re-election to Holyrood with an overall majority has fuelled Scottish architects’ hopes for a shake-up of public procurement laws

As the RIAS Convention kicks off today (14 May) in Glasgow, architects have pinned high hopes on the new government and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond’s pre-election commitments to ‘open up’ public commissioning and promote ‘Scottish creativity’.

‘There is hope in Alex Salmond’s admissions that centralised commissioning may have excluded practices from bidding and that some PFI work to date “leaves much to be desired in terms of quality”’, said Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter.

He said: ‘That could be the key to much more public control of public commissioning, rather than being beholden to the big builders and mortgaging the future on PFI or PPP models.’

An anticipated £2 billion credit line from Whitehall is expected to be used by SNP government to further boost public spending, potentially reviving scores of stalled Scottish regeneration schemes.

Archial joint managing director Bob Hall predicts this money will help to ‘mitigate huge cuts to the Government’s capital budgets as a result of the UK Government’s deficit reduction plan.’

The new government has already committed to rebuilding ‘half of Scotland’s crumbling schools’, attracting £2.5 billion of private investment in capital projects, raising country’s renewable energy target to 100 per cent by 2020 and creating a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund – according to Hall.

‘We will see very different attempts to secure economic recovery north and south of the Border’, he said.

Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio at Edinburgh Napier University’s Forest Products Research Institute, noted that the SNP government boasted three former architecture ministers and the chair of last year’s housing expo.

‘The arrival of a majority SNP administration at Holyrood may well prove to be seminal for the profession in Scotland’, he said.

Focus has to shift dramatically from touchy-feely initiatives to architecture’s considerable economic value

Calling for a third ‘iteration’ of a Scottish architecture policy he added: ‘[The] focus this time has to shift dramatically from touchy-feely initiatives to architecture’s considerable economic value.

‘[With] experience of architecture now within the new government’s ranks, review of the wholly ineffectual Cross Party Architecture Group can now take place.’

Malcolm Fraser of Malcolm Fraser Architects added: ‘The SNP has pursued a twin-track policy where public procurement and market stimulus are channelled through its Scottish Futures Trust to big construction conglomerates, and community interest is absorbed into Princes’ Foundation-type consultations. Life for architects as supply-chain consultant to the first and Charrette-facilitators to the second is troubling.’

Gordon Murray of Gordon Murray architects similarly suggested the Scottish Futures Trust required ‘reappraisal to better deliver quality as well as overall value for money.’ 

But he said the SNP raised hopes that Scotland’s ‘moribund’ architecture policy could be advanced, calling for greater support for watchdog Architecture and Design Scotland, Creative Scotland and the post of Chief Architect.

Meanwhile Ewan Anderson, managing partner of 7N Architects welcomed the end to a ‘pall of uncertainty’ which had plagued the public sector in recent months.

He said: ‘Scotland is probably lagging about 6-9 months behind the south-east in terms of the beginnings of any form of recovery and doesn’t have the foreign investment that seems to be flowing into London.

‘Some of the larger private sector projects that we are involved in are beginning to move now but it’s a slow, step by step, process.

‘My hope is that the emphatic election result will go some way towards addressing this and that the inevitable turf war between Holyrood and Westminster over independence doesn’t destabilise it.’

Read the full comments below

Neil Baxter, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland secretary & treasurer
Last Thursday (5 May), Scotland’s political map turned SNP yellow in an election which delivered our first, post-devolution majority government. For four years from 2007 to 2011 a minority SNP government deftly held onto power in Scotland, carefully negotiating annual budgets and avoiding radical policy shifts which it did not have the strength to carry. However we now have an SNP administration with a firm mandate for change.

Scotland could become a much better place in the process. There is hope for construction in Alex Salmond’s admissions, in the most recent RIASQuarterly, that centralised commissioning may have excluded practices from bidding and that some PFI work to date ‘leaves much to be desired in terms of quality’! He has also undertaken to open up public commissioning and to support Scottish creativity as a global economic asset.

Elsewhere Salmond has advocated a new public borrowing regime. That could be the key to much more public control of public commissioning, rather than being beholden to the big builders and mortgaging the future on PFI or PPP models. The prospect of commissioning public projects on capital borrowed at sensible bank rates, backed by the security of the public purse, might signal a future which enables Scottish architects, their co-professionals and locally based contractors, to compete fairly for work in Scotland. Our new built environment might then sit alongside our superb built heritage as a combined economic asset within a proud Scotland of truly global quality. Let’s achieve that together Salmond!

Malcolm Fraser, Malcolm Fraser Architects
Revolution or evolution, is there any architecture to be done?  The SNP has pursued a twin-track policy where public procurement and market stimulus are channelled through its Scottish Futures Trust to big construction conglomerates, and community interest is absorbed into Princes’ Foundation-type consultations. Life for architects as supply-chain consultant to the first and Charrette-facilitators to the second is troubling.  But there’s little else to do, a pressing Governmental need to deliver good messages and, at least, some stability, so I’m hawking my c.v. round with enthusiasm.

Gordon Murray, Gordon Murray Architects
The strength of the SNP win will hopefully encourage them to be more adventurous and progressive in legislation, avoiding a possible preoccupation with independence which whilst a long term aspiration, can only in the short term be a distraction from a pressing developing of our fragile economic base. From the construction industry point of view the Scottish Futures Trust requires reappraisal to better deliver quality as well as overall value for money.
It needs to ensure all sectors of the industry- practices and companies - large and small benefit from the investment. Hub agreements also need to reflect similar aspirations. It is also hoped that the government will kick start further development of the almost moribund Architecture Policy, through greater support for the post of Chief Architect, and the Architecture and Design Scotland and Creative Scotland organisations.

The industry is on its knees and turning this around requires vision and long term commitment from government

And also building upon superb initiatives, such as support for St Peters Cardross and a Scottish presence at the Venice Biennale. The whole industry is on its knees and turning this around requires vision and long term commitment from government to create optimum business conditions. Greater fiscal autonomy would, in my view, be beneficial.

On education, whilst I welcome the avoidance of any suggestion of the introduction of tuition fees the inevitable reduction in the overall education budget may have a greater negative impact on widening access to tertiary education in general and on architecture schools in particular. In this we must hope that with the election out of the way SFC will continue to look favourably upon our argument and finally assess architecture as a studio based education.

Bob Hall, Archial joint managing director
When the Scottish parliament was established, a voting system was put in place (a combination of PR and first past the Post) which made it extremely unlikely that any party could achieve an overall majority.  As a result we have had more than a decade of ‘consensus politics’ where the parties have been compelled to cooperate in order to govern.  Last Thursdays ‘stunning’ result for the SNP marks a sea change in Scottish Politics: for the first time since 1999 we have a majority government, empowered to fully implement the manifesto on which it was elected.

The SNP, like the Labour Party, believes that the Chancellor’s cuts have been too fast and too deep – First Minister, Alex Salmond, announced his intention during the election campaign to seek borrowing powers to allow the Scottish Government to make these cuts shallower and slower.  Things are already moving fast.  Over the weekend, David Cameron is reported to have agreed to grant the Scottish Government immediate enhanced borrowing powers – in effect a £2 billion line of credit from the Treasury for Capital projects.   Under the UK proposals, Edinburgh would be able to borrow 10 per cent of that sum each year.  If this has been granted, it could provide a major boost to Scotland’s construction sector, helping to mitigate huge cuts to the Government’s capital budgets as a result of the UK Government’s deficit reduction plan. There is a further indication that Cameron is digging his heels in on the SNP’s demand for power over Corporation Tax and the Crown Estate in Scotland – both key aspects of the SNP’s plan for economic recovery.  A full announcement is, however, still pending.The SNP is also committed to repairing ‘half of Scotland’s crumbling schools’ in the term of this parliament (the next 5 years); to attracting £2.5 billion of private investment in capital projects (a further move away from the SNP’s 2007 pledge to abandon privately-funded public construction schemes); to raising the Scottish target for renewable power to a world-leading 100 per cent by 2020 and to the creation of a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund.The election result could be seen as partly a reaction to the recession – with voters in Scotland trying to pull up the drawbridge.  This was perhaps compounded by the lack of any credible opposition from the other parties.  Nonetheless, the result will impact on the construction industry in Scotland for the foreseeable future and, in my view,  the government’s one overriding priority must be to grow the private sector – continuing small business and empty property rate relief would go some way to assisting with this.  Also, developers are still facing frustrating planning delays – decisions should be faster but this requires resources to achieve and where will they come from?We will see very different attempts to secure economic recovery north and south of the Border.  Only time will tell which strategy is best.


Peter Moran, Keppie director of learning
Keppie Design would like to congratulate Alex Salmond and the SNP. They have been elected with a landslide popular mandate because of the party’s positive and ambitious plans for Scotland. The SNP have emphasised the importance of skills, training and the renewable sector and want to get the Scottish economy working again with significant capital investment plans for schools, colleges, the prison estate and the health service.
Investment in the construction industry is vital to help kick-start the Scottish economy and is also a Keppie priority. We have helped to deliver more than 50 new schools and several hospitals, including Forth Valley, since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999 and we can do more.

I feel cautiously optimistic that the SNP majority could be positive for Scotland but they will have to demonstrate progress in areas of Construction, Education, Healthcare at a time when budgets have been significantly reduced.

Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio at Edinburgh Napier University’s Forest Products Research Institute
The arrival of a majority SNP administration at Holyrood may well prove to be seminal for the profession in Scotland and, with three former architecture ministers elected under first past the post rules as well as the chair of last year’s Housing Expo and another new SNP MSP with a long association with architecture and construction, the government north of the border now has a far greater knowledge base of the huge creative resource available to it than any of its predecessors.In its election manifesto, the SNP put great store on construction as an economic driver, tying this to the need for enhanced borrowing powers to stimulate major projects such as a new road bridge over the Firth of Forth. And with David Cameron indicating that the Scottish Parliament may well be given means to borrow, the question will be how judiciously this opportunity is used. Of itself, a new bridge won’t necessarily increase work for architects, but other possibilities are now surely on the table and a third iteration of a national architecture policy cannot realistically be – or allowed to be - far away. Presuming so, the focus this time has to shift dramatically from touchy-feely initiatives to architecture’s considerable economic value.

And with experience of architecture now within the new government’s ranks, review of the wholly ineffectual Cross Party Architecture Group can now take place, as indeed that of Architecture + Design Scotland’s raison d’etre. But these are aspirations – given its mandate, the new government has to deliver on job and wealth creation across the whole of Scotland and, paradoxically, one of the greatest areas of new business growth is in the architectural profession. Supporting these nascent practices with real opportunities to build will be vital to how well the country performs economically on the export as well as the domestic front.

Clouds on the horizon?  First Minister Alex Salmond’s avowed support in his Aberdeenshire power-base for the rapacious new town that Donald Trump has cunningly presented as a golf course, plus the grandiose intention of Sir Ian Wood, Scotland’s second wealthiest man, to transform central Aberdeen with a little of his own money and a very considerable amount of yours and mine. How well the new government attracts new investment whilst standing up to the depredations of the rich and powerful may well turn out to be the hallmark of architectural life in Scotland over the next five years.


Andy Law, director Reiach and Hall Architects
The Scottish National Party, in their last parliamentary term, clearly impressed voters with their ability to govern as a minority party. The real test, of course, comes now. With no impediment to implementing their policies we will see precisely what they are made of. From an architect’s point of view, this means putting money in the place of rhetoric, and assisting the construction economy back onto its feet.

The omens do appear good. As a party they spoke in the run up to the election more convincingly than others regarding a capital spending programme. Whilst the Scottish Futures Trust has been much criticised for not completing more projects, I do believe that they have been developing an attitude to procurement which stands a real chance of delivering the kind of public buildings that Scotland both wants and needs.

Ewan Anderson, 7N Architects managing partner
I’m glad the election is now over, with a clear outcome, as it has cast a pall of uncertainty over the past few months particularly in the public sector. Development in all sectors in Scotland has been particularly badly hit by the credit crunch as so many projects and developers were funded by either RBS or HBOS. Scotland is probably lagging about 6-9 months behind the south-east in terms of the beginnings of any form of recovery and doesn’t have the foreign investment that seems to be flowing into London.

It is heartening that the First Minister highlighted the need for ‘borrowing powers to keep the revival in the construction industry moving’ as one of his top three priorities in his victory speech. The Scottish Futures Trust, the SNP Government’s alternative to PFI hasn’t really got going but it now needs to start delivering to achieve this aim.

Some of the larger private sector projects that we are involved in are beginning to move now but it’s a slow, step by step, process. The big issue is still a lack of confidence which is inhibiting client decisions to press the button on projects. My hope is that the emphatic election result will go some way towards addressing this and that the inevitable turf war between Holyrood and Westminster over independence doesn’t destabilise it.

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