A week before the referendum, Scottish architects plan to vote yes, as culture secretary Fiona Hyslop calls for an end to the brain-drain to London
Almost two thirds of architects in Scotland want independence, according to a new poll of the profession.
A hefty 59 per cent of the nearly 160 architects who voted in AJ’s recent online survey said they were in favour of the country cutting its ties with the UK – around 12 per cent above the number of yes voters in the latest YouGov poll of the general public.
Those working in small practices showed a clear preference for independence, but those at medium to large practices were divided by an almost even split between the yes and no camps.
But Alasdair Stephen, of RIBA Award-winning Dualchas Architects, who is also a key figurehead of the Architects for Yes campaign, argued that independence would invigorate Scottish architecture.
‘Scotland will have more self-confidence, which will be reflected in our architecture,’ he said. ‘We will be equal with other nations in the world and we will realise that our architecture should be just as good. A lack of confidence and invisibility is preventing it from being so.’
Euan McLaren, of 3DReid, agreed. He said: ‘I hope [independence] will provide a shot in the arm and give confidence to clients – both national and international – to use Scottish architects. It will start a national conversation about Scottish architecture and how it can help shape our future.
As the AJ went to press, YouGov’s latest poll showed 47 per cent of the Scottish public in favour of independence, and 45 per cent against.
On Monday, at an event organised by the Architects for Yes group, the Scottish secretary for culture, Fiona Hyslop, said: ‘The referendum has engaged people in politics in a way I have never seen before.’
I don’t want our talent to have to go to London
She added: ‘I don’t want our talent to have to go to London to be able to do what they trained to do. We need to showcase the talent of our architects internationally.’
However, the survey underlined the extent of the divide in the profession over the vote on 18 September.
Many admitted deep scepticism about a yes victory and its potential impact on architects.
One respondent said: ‘We don’t know what independent means. It’s like designing a building with no foundation.’
Alan Dickson, an architect at Rural Design, said: ‘We should be breaking down boundaries, not creating them. The UK is a fantastic example of a successful multi-cultural country, and although there are issues to be solved it remains an example to the rest of the world.’
Lee Ivett of Baxendale said: ‘With recent moves towards risk-averse, large-scale hub procurement by the SNP government, I am filled with absolute dread regarding what awaits us on the other side of independence.
Scottish architecture will become even more faux vernacular and parochial
‘[With independence, Scottish architecture] will become even more regional, inward looking, faux vernacular and parochial than it already is.’
Sole-practitioner Dennis Rodwell, agreed. He said: ‘[Independence would be] seriously negative. It would stifle creativity. Money would rule. Quality would go out of the window.
Comment: Scots in Scotland
Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio research centre, Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction‘The most immediate consequence of a no vote will be an increase in the drain of architectural talent to London that has been the bane of professional life here since time immemorial. With only the prospect of increased austerity measures from an unconstrained Westminster government, insufficient opportunities are likely to emerge in the foreseeable future to enable Scotland to retain this valuable resource. Constant turbulence of personnel does not make for great architecture, and anyone thinking the proposed additional devolved powers will bring more opportunity, prosperity and security is likely to be deluded.
‘Many architects in Scotland have viewed the referendum as the opportunity to effect the positive change necessary to fit the profession for the 21st century. Should this compulsion be stifled, the restructuring essential to the creation and support of quality architecture will be placed on hold in favour of a status quo that manifestly does not work for most of Scotland’s 4,000 or so practitioners.’
Paul Stallan, design director, Stallan-Brand
‘Being involved in urban regeneration and education projects in Glasgow, I would hope that a yes vote would provide a new impetus in this sector with a greater focus on eradicating poverty, unemployment and chronic ill health.
‘The yes vote is a protest vote against a legacy of destruction and broken communities started by Margaret Thatcher and perpetuated by London’s political elite. A yes vote will have positive implications for architects working in both Scotland and England. The old order is dead.’
Thea McMillan, director of architecture, Chambers McMillan
‘Decisions for Scotland should be made as close to the people they affect as possible. This allows real engagement with people in both policy and decision making. The referendum gives an opportunity to be involved in a debate with so many different areas of society.
‘The energy and buzz that would carry on after a yes vote would help inform further engagement on policies that affect architects: procurement, inclusion and the opportunity to design for people rather than for conglomerates.’
‘This vote is not about the Scottish Nationalist party, nor Alex Salmond, nor any perceived dislike of England. It is about self-control and self-determination. A Yes will require that Scots take control of their own political system and finances. So there will be a massive change in almost every aspect of life.
‘A No with so many bridges burned means there is no way to return to the status quo ante. People have seen the outline of a different future and understand that they can change.
‘A close outcome will mean that the question will not go away. No economist saw the crash of 2008 coming, despite some telling you otherwise. The economy will not collapse if Scotland goes it alone. There may be shaky times in the London money markets-but they will get over that. There will be currency union because that is the pragmatic outcome and projects will go ahead.
‘A Yes could bring with it a surge of confidence in Scottish identity and culture and lead to a renewal in architecture. At present we have policy built on a failing public procurement system, desperately in need of reform.’
Comment: Scots in England
Walter Menteth, founder, Walter Menteth Architects
‘The opportunity for a constitutional settlement with a new Federated British state appears to have been lost. The abject disdainful spin of the business-as-usual Westminster establishment in this referendum leaves us dolefully watching over the potential end of this nation and facing a black hole of unimaginable consequences followed by years of reckoning.
‘Historically many countries have experienced a cultural flowering under the rejuvenating influence of independence. The Scottish architectural design scene is currently vibrantly robust, and a resurgent national confidence with a new identity is likely to see a flowering. Work in establishment of embassies, administrative and organisational structures will likely come with a yes vote.
‘But, as reality strikes, the rump UK may face a diminishing of confidence. This calls for leadership into a new age. The RIBA might start by holding a design competition for a new national flag capable of asserting a new post-imperial identity to presage this new age.
‘Expect a roller-coaster ride.’
Dave McCall, director, OMI Architects, Manchester
‘Scotland fights above its weight in the current regime and benefits from that. The Scottish strength is as a people who venture further afield as well as maintaining ties with the home country.
‘[Together we] benefit from the strength that we have London, which is a top five capital city in the world. Glasgow and Edinburgh are fantastic cities but they do not carry much international weight. Most countries in Europe would kill to have a capital which wields so much power on the world stage.’
John McRae, director, Orms
‘I would like to believe a yes vote will have no impact on architectural practices. We have seen over the past decade that clients in Scotland have chosen architects based upon merit, eg Stephen Holl at Glasgow School of Art and Kengo Kuma &Associates at the V&A in Dundee.
‘While this might be difficult for local practices to accept, it helps challenge architectural convention. The greatest challenge for an independent Scotland will be how it attracts investment to raise sufficient funds for “the new Scotland”.’