Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Scottish architects favour independence in 60–40 split


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.’

Alan Dunlop
‘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”.’


Readers' comments (8)

  • Walter Menteth's observation of the lost opportunity might yet prove to be premature, if Westminster gets a sufficiently hefty kicking but Scotland opts to remain within the fold - and the implications for the English regions could well be immense.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I read the comments, often interesting, occasionally insightful, from within the architectural profession about Scottish independence. I smile wryly when I see them too often boil down to the polarity dominating all comment trails after thoughtful pieces, from The Guardian to Open Democracy: the risky energies released by liberty and self-government versus the security of holding wealthy big brother’s hand.
    But surely no-one, in the end, whichever way you vote, is voting primarily for a more favourable professional context for yourself?

    Any socially responsible architect should read Adam Ramsey’s 42 Reasons to Support Scottish Independence (download it for less than two quid). Argue and disagree if you will, but address the real issues before you decide. Similarly Anthony Barnett’s thank you letter to Scotland published yesterday (https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/thank-you-scotland-and-hold-your-nerve).

    And then, as we are architects as well as citizens, pay a visit to the Miralles inspired horseshoe and the Barry-Pugin stand-off pews, two sword-lengths apart. See how (un)welcome you are made, talk to the ushers, watch the other visitors, note how close or distant you are from the debate. The one at every turn, from architectural detail to official behavior, impresses its intimidation; the other welcomes and invites. In which culture would you rather be governed?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Let's be honest, the only sector that will be affected at all is e public sector, and in my opinion, these buildings are already risk averse and poor quality. A yes vote is not going to stifle creativity. A yes vote in fact would lead to greater opportunity for redefining the Industry in Scotland.

    Scotland should be a world leader in sustainable architecture. The fact it isn't is because it is beholden to an oil industry financed Westminster establishment.

    Break free!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Your headline is completely misleading. Anyone can search and find that the RIAS has a membership of some 3300 architects, and if you go to the Architects for Yes website you can count and find about 96 architects undersigned, this is LESS THAN 3%!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • John McKean can't seriously be suggesting that the chamber of the Scottish Parliament is a better space and a better advert for democracy than the House of Commons? The Commons is a fantastic intense and serious place (regardless of the quality of debate) – and it seems appropriate for important political decision making. At Holyrood - although the complex as a whole is good in parts – the debating chamber is a real anit-climax. (This was not Miralles's fault – you may recall the constant political interference in the form of the Chamber). The Holyrood Chamber is far to open, light and airy and it’s very hard for the visitor to know where to focus their attention. The chamber fails to evoke any sense that this is a space in which rigorous political scrutiny is underway. MSPs appear to be just going through the motions.
    That said, you shouldn't judge the quality of a democracy by its buildings. We should judge the Scottish Government on its track record ... which is appalling on pretty much every issue that matters from democratic rights, family privacy, building procurement, politicised arts funding and cuts in HE/ FE and schools budgets. A vote for Scottish Independence is likely to bring with it the suspense of any genuine opposition to these half-baked and regressive policies. Many of the problems of contemporary Scotland were made in Scotland by the SNP-led government. Scapegoating the English isn’t going to change that fact … but it will help our own Scottish Elite retain their grip on the levers of power for a very long time.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Penny

    Please don't confuse a vote for independence - a vote for bringing democracy back to the people of Scotland - with a vote for SNP policies. Once we're independent, you can vote for whichever party that best represents your interests.

    What wont happen after independence is that we get a government that we didn't vote for that serves the City of London rather than the people. You'll be able to ponder on this on Friday after the Yes vote is announced.

    BTW, your reference to "scapegoating the English" is laughable, when the Yes movement is about taking responsibility - do you write for the Daily Mail?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Neil, I don’t understand the reference to the Daily Mail? Is it a snide way of calling me a right wing ‘tory toff’ - just because I dare to criticise the SNP Holyrood government. If you do win on Friday – will all government critics be labelled 'Daily Mail readers'? I trust that you will support a genuine free democratic political debate about Scotland’s future as opposed to the current fad for name–calling.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Penny

    No, the reference was because certain elements of the media talk up the idea that the debate is based around blaming the English - when nothing could be further from the truth. It's about "us" not "them". Since you live and work in Scotland you must know this, so you are misrepresenting the energising debate we are having to people down south (as the Daily Mail does).

    I didn't mean to sneer - and apologies if you were offended. As I said before, don't conflate your disapproval of SNP policies with what we are voting on - bringing democracy closer to the people, and imagining how we can build a better society.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs