I’ve just returned from a (literally) flying 48 hour visit to Edinburgh. The weather was stunning – I even caught a touch of sunburn – and although I’ve lived in Canada for a more than half my life, the trip reinforced how much Scotland holds my heart.
I spent the time with a friend I made many – many – years ago when we were both students at Aberdeen University; she studied Politics and International Relations while I majored in Social and Economic History. Having both lived in Edinburgh at various times in our lives, we felt we knew the city well, but one place neither of us had ever visited was The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile by Holyrood Palace.
The building itself caused lots of controversy when it was commissioned; designed by a Spanish architect, it ran horrendously over budget.
What were those images of whisky bottles on the walls? we asked the guide.The famous quote by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns came to mind; Whisky and freedom gang th’gither.
‘Aye,’ the guide replied, ‘that’s what everyone thinks, but it’s supposed to signify people looking over the politicians’ shoulders, so they know they’re always being watched.’
And then we came across a copy of poem, Open The Doors, written by Sottish makar Edwin Morgan for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 2004. Although it was written specifically for the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament, there are lines in there that every politician around the world- be they local, national or federal – should recite every day before they begin their day’s work.
A Poem by Edwin Morgan
For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004
Open the Doors!
Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!
We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer,
between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.
Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?
Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery.
But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!
Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –
And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice –
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill with your nose in the air,
This is where you know your parliament should be And this is where it is, just here.
What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.
A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want.
Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.
When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but a good
sense of what was once in the honour of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.
What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.