Myself and my mother entered the new parliament building through a revolving door. Before leaving our concrete seat opposite the Queen’s Gallery, we took one last glance at the immense broad and thick rock that reached for the sky called Arthur’s Seat. Adjacent the parliament are a few triangular and oddly shaped pools. They call them ‘ponds’ but there is no life in them, no greenery, and not a frog in sight. Architect, Enric Miralles, wrote that ‘the building should originate from the sloping base of Arthur’s Seat and arrive into the city almost out of the rock.’
However, reflecting back and looking across glittering pools up towards the immeasurable beauty of that mountain it was apparent that somehow Miralles intention had not worked. Surely, if the intention of Miralles’ design was modern ‘out of the rock’, then why was the mountain more modern and monumental than the £414m crusade beside me?
There is, I must agree, a certain element of calmness on a hot day in the design of his external landscape. But this is Scotland, not Spain. There is no serious connection between the natural landscape and the so-called modern parliament building. Wildflowers instead of spreading across the earth look suffocated waving about unnaturally. Everything is out of place. Tourists are everywhere but nowhere.
At the revolving doors, we are not greeted but welcomed with security. Bags, belts and coats all must go into a single tray. We pass security. Disturbingly, I felt as though we were taken hostage. Think about it: like prisoners before we entered. We were now at the centre of not the universe but the building itself. Your eyes don’t know where to look. Glass, metal and wood is criss-crossing you everywhere. You immediately yearn to find a different space than the one you’re stepping into.
We felt insecure and caved in. Are we in the rock that has rolled away from Arthur’s seat? Or, are we in the mountain itself? I don’t know. I felt less of the desire to explore rather escape. At reception there is a long line of ushers. Popcorn, anyone?
Beside me, a photograph exhibition by Harry Benson called ‘Seeing America’. The photos reveal everything about the horror of American tyranny. Yet we are inside a building that is almost like a bunker – a bomb proof one – and a building that is difficult to get in and out of. I ask a security guard where the debating chamber is. Everywhere are slabs of concrete. Was our environment seriously considered?
Finally, we entered the chamber. It wasn’t what I expected, being a lot smaller. On TV, the chamber appeared larger with more space in-between the politicians. Our perspective, when seated of secular props (chairs, speakers and tables) became miniature. There is a long distance between you and politics.
There are lights everywhere and cameras, being equipped rather than prepared for the modern world. Like a movie-set maybe. It was finally time to watch. The Presiding Officer commenced with FMQs; a hammer was hit and immediately politicians stood up and sat down in their seats. It was a case of ‘Lights. Camera. Action!’ I noticed immediately that you can’t really see the MSPs’ facial or body expressions. The politics of politics, it appears, is being played down. Politics is now action-packed. Nothing from the ‘visitors’ perspective felt live or real.
A question is asked, the First Minister stands up abruptly, shouting at the opposition, whilst their party leader quickly leans back on her chair, holding up a look of terror. It is a pathetic and sad sight. Was I watching a rehearsal? If I was directing, I would be shouting: ‘Cut, cut cut!’
Politics is not in the space we are sitting. We are projected out and separated. Men, women and teenagers arch their bodies over the rails, shockingly, I realised, being treated as animals. And so we behave like one. Monkey, not the man, was obedient and sat back in his seat. Everywhere there are now security guards, Press with their ridiculously long cameras lenses, taking a hundred shots. An awful lot of hysteria for just a thirty minute rehearsal!
Honestly, the whole experience and the space itself was – and still – is in my memory a surreal one. When we consider the importance of politics, such an element of surrealism is not essential to life or humanity. We must think harder about the principle of not just politics but parliament itself – we must approach democracy with serious intelligence and more attention to human essence than architectural drawings.
Today, we are forced to accept the extreme distance between humanity and politics. The appearance of progress has become more important than the actual progress. Democracy which is a power in itself has been removed from us, owned instead by capitalists shelved and packaged through branded parties. Words ‘my party’ must be excluded one day if we are to climb any mountain. I turned to the film director – sorry the security guard – and asked for the way out.
Patrick Phillips is a revolutionary writer, lyricist, humanist and artist based in Perthshire. He successfully wrote in 2015 the lyrics for the song, ‘Man of the Mountains’, for a new musical, ‘Out Of Place’, at the York New Musical Festival. His first non-fiction is about a lawyer, who started his own circus more than thirty years ago, it will be published in 2018. On Twitter @PatrickWriter