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Video: Architects for Yes set out case for Scots independence

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Leading lights of the Architects for Yes campaign explained their stance and the benefits of independence on Monday night (8 September) ahead of the Scottish referendum on 18 September

Speaking at the event, Yes campaigner Jonathan Charley, posed the question: ‘If we are better together, why are we not better now?’

More than 40 architects attended the public meeting which also featured speeches from Scottish architect Malcolm Fraser, Edinburgh Napier University’s Peter Wilson, and Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

Hyslop said the referendum ‘has engaged people in politics in a way I have never seen before’.

She added: ‘I don’t want our talent to have to go to London to do what they are trained to do. We need to showcase the talent of our architects internationally’.

Source: Architects for Yes

Architects for Yes, which was created to ‘help design and create the new Scotland that will come with Scottish independence’, believes independence holds ‘huge opportunities’ for architects.

But the group recently came under fire from Edinburgh-based architect Richard Murphy, who accused the campaigners 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’.

Summaries of the speeches

Peter Wilson

Scottish Architecture Unlimited – unleashing the talent

Scotland has changed considerably in the 15 years since some government functions were devolved to Holyrood. Whilst we live in times of constant change, we know from this that change is not the same thing as risk and if we want to have greater assurances about our future we really need to be in control of our own destiny. More than any other profession, architects are trained to anticipate, plan, design and implement change but we are also trained to lead the way in new developments or ideas. As such, we have a unique opportunity to be in the vanguard of the construction of a new and better Scotland. The starting question for architects here therefore has to be: is this really as good as it gets, or can we achieve much more?

More than 70 per cent of practices in Scotland comprise of ten people or less and we need to develop new ways to mobilise this rich resource to gain maximum benefit from the many possible synergies that exist. Independence offers the opportunity to galvanise the profession and shake off the torpor of the 35 years that have passed since we last had the opportunity to vote on this subject.

  • Peter Wilson is an architect, writer and director of the Wood Studio, a specialist research centre within Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction

Jonathan Charley

Architecture and urban development are intrinsically political. The task is to change their politics. So my ‘yes’ vote is rooted in the possibility of developing:

  • A dynamic, socialist republic, where the decision making process over what gets built, where, and how is taken by democratically elected and accountable bodies.
  • A publicly controlled building industry whose priorities are based around the assessment of social need and social equitability rather than the profits of shareholders and land development companies.
  • Forms of architectural and building production that reject neo-liberalism and restore the idea of an architecture of social engagement.
  • New environmentally progressive industrial and agricultural building typologies that provide long term employment.
  • An infrastructural programme for the highlands to upgrade existing settlements and to re-inhabit the cleared glens using state of the art building technology and design expertise.
  • Laws that make it illegal to pursue forms of building and land development that are harmful to humans and the environment.
  • A radical programme for land reform, including the recovery of illegally appropriated commons and the abolition of crown rights over land…and there is much more we could add.

It is not that such objectives and the possibility of their fulfillment are unique to Scotland, but it strikes me that independence gives the greatest possibility of their realisation.

  • Jonathan Charley is director of cultural studies in the Department of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde

Malcolm Fraser

This momentous stramash and kerfuffle should be seen, whether “yes” or “no”, as a final unravelling of Empire. The “Devo-panic” now on offer cedes considerable power – though the bits it retains include the ability to spend £20 billion on illegal wars and upwards of £100 billion on weapons of mass destruction (a nice Independence dividend).

More: the panic promised at devolution never happened and neither is the “We’re Doomed!”, promised by those who have crashed our economy and unpicked civil society, going to happen now, for small, developed nations are healthy things, and Scotland rich in resources.

And more: devolution is mind-blowingly complex and Independence clean and simple. It will focus us on standing on our own two feet, for after 300 years of a union that has, until recently, been good for all of us, all of the nations and regions of Britain need to reconsider a sick and self-harming British state, that cares for little but to channel wealth and privilege to its governing elite.

As for architecture, that sickness has infected us here too. But we have no hope of appealing to London, to put people and architecture, instead of bankers, back at the heart of the built environment. We believe that political culture – that is the shared culture of the people, as well as our politicians – is sufficiently distinct that we can, here. And that the beautiful groundswell of passion, that the Referendum has unleashed, must go on to reinvigorate our local politics.

  • Malcolm Fraser is the founder of Malcolm Fraser Architects


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