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Richard Murphy warns of ‘economic limbo’ for Scottish architects


Two leading Scottish architects have clashed over the country’s independence referendum

Following the recent establishment of the Architects for Yes campaign group, prominent architect and organiser Malcolm Fraser told the AJ last week that independence would help improve the country’s built environment and suggested that a Scotland divorced from the rest of the UK would be a more ‘caring’ country.

Now, fellow Edinburgh architect Richard Murphy has responded by accusing Architects for Yes of ‘playing with fire’ in seeking to influence an issue of immense importance which he said had ‘very little to do with the practice of architecture’.

Murphy, who is English and has lived and worked in Edinburgh for 36 years and is the founder of Richard Murphy Architects, said: ‘The reality is that 99 per cent of what the government does in the field of architecture is already devolved: schools, health buildings, higher education, planning and building regulations, Architecture & Design Scotland and, of course, procurement.

‘Far from some sort of renaissance, a lot of what successive Scottish governments have done has been very negative. Procurement, in particular, has been a disaster here; far worse than south of the border.  The Scottish Futures Trust and the hubco procurement system are the prime examples … it adds insult to injury that we have a much vaunted “architecture policy” which is useless in the face of these other policies and agencies.’

Murphy said he would vote no, calling Britain ‘a fantastically creative and diverse country with a mostly amazing history and a terrific standing in the world’.

He added: ‘I believe, in the event of a Yes victory, we will find ourselves in an economic and international limbo for a number of months, if not years, and that could be hugely damaging to virtually every architectural practice in Scotland.

‘During the years of negotiation, no one in their right mind would invest in Scotland; offices could face collapse. Luckily we have substantial work outside Scotland. I feel sorry for those who don’t; they must be very fearful.’

Meanwhile, RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said that the organisation had held discussions with the Scottish government about how the profession and the education of architects would be regulated in an independent Scotland, because ARB’s role would no longer apply.

Further comments

Kieran Gaffney, director, Konishi Gaffney, Edinburgh

‘The nation state isn’t as important as it used to be and we can sort through the issues that independence will present. Devolution happened, lots of things have changed and this is a continuation of that process. I am probably going to vote yes but I am not joining the campaign as I don’t see why we should all join together. Architects are like cats – we don’t usually hang around together.’

Ben Addy, director, Moxon Architects, London and Aberdeen

‘The political engagement that’s going on is fantastic but I find over-simplified remonstrations irritating. The Architects for Yes campaign and its antithesis, if it exists, presents similar issues. I’m not sure why anyone outside of my acquaintance should give two hoots as to how I am going to vote. I am happy to keep my personal politics separate from practice.’

Rab Bennetts, director, Bennetts Associates, London and Edinburgh

‘I was born and brought up in Scotland, trained in Scotland and Bennetts Associates has had an office in Scotland for 20 years; it is distressing to see the debate unfold without being able to vote as I live in London. I’m not convinced by Alex Salmond’s economics; we are stronger together. Breaking up the UK doesn’t just affect Scotland. There are many people in Britain who disagree with recent policies coming from Westminster.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • Richard Murphy is to be applauded.
    The economic and international limbo will last for years, and architectural practice in Scotland will be decimated (in today's usage, rather than the dictionary definition).

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  • Thank you Richard Murphy

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  • Well said Richard. Just look at the contrast between the Architecture Policy and the Procurement Policy.

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  • Thank you for speaking up

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  • It's telling that Mr Murphy only sees independence in terms of a architect's client base - ie, how it may affect his wallet.

    Architects for Yes doesn't defend current Scottish Government architecture and procurement policy - it is about architects taking responsibility to help shape our country - to make it a fairer and better society. It is certainly not about "what's in it for me?"

    In Scotland there is a huge and exciting grass roots debate going on about the sort of country we want to live in. I want architects to be part of that, not sniping from the sidelines about past mistakes or complaining about potential risk.

    Some creative thinking is required.

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