A tour of the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

A couple of Saturdays ago I fulfilled an ambition to tour the Scottish Parliament building – it’s been open since 2004, so I’m not really slow, am I? The building has always been controversial – it was late, over-budget and not everyone likes the design – but I felt I understood it much better after listening to our excellent tour guide, Adrienne. The Parliament is at Holyrood at the bottom of Canongate, the lower part of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile which is the medieval heart of the city. According to its website:

Drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape, the flower paintings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the upturned boats on the seashore, Enric Miralles, one of the world’s premier architects, developed a design that he said was a building “growing out of the land”.

Miralles also alludes to themes of openness and democracy and includes symbols of Scotland. The Main Hall, for example, is modelled on medieval vaults and features the Saltire cross from Scotland’s flag. Here, there is a Visitor Information Centre, exhibition, shop, café and crèche for visitors’ children.

Scottish Parliament Main Hall

Throughout, there are various works of art. Shown below are Contemplace by George Wyllie, the artist’s idea for a Scottish Throne, including the Stone of Destiny and references to Mackintosh, and a head of Robert Burns made of match heads by David Mach.

Travelling the Distance by Shauna McMullan is a collection of 100 handwritten sentences made of porcelain. The sentences were collected by the artist on a journey around Scotland to meet 100 women. Each of the 100 women was asked to write something about a woman they felt had made a significant contribution to Scotland. The artist asked each woman to refer her to another woman until she reached 100. We saw the parliament’s mace when we were in the Debating Chamber, but no photographs were allowed – the picture from the Visitor Centre, below, replicates the head, though the original, crafted in silver and gold by Michael Lloyd, was much more splendid.

It was a great thrill to step into the Debating Chamber having seen it so many times on TV. As I said, no photographs were allowed while on the tour, but we were able to go back to the Visitors’ Gallery later and take pictures from there. The Chamber is built in a semi-circle so that everyone is facing the Presiding Officer (rather than opposing politicians) and has a modern electronic voting system. I feel the archaic UK parliament at Westminster should learn lessons from this!

Scottish Parliament Debating Chamber

Throughout the Chamber, on the light fittings and in the glass, were symbols which we guessed to be whisky bottles, but apparently are stylised people, presumably to remind Members to whom they are responsible – us.

The chairs in the Visitors’ Gallery were rather an odd shape, but surprisingly comfortable – and the view behind was terrific.

Visitor’s Gallery

After our tour, we had lunch in the café before heading back into the cold. On the way out, I picked up a leaflet about Canongate which I’ve walked up and down many times, but following this map took us into some of the closes on either side and we learned some interesting history. That’s for a later post: for now, I’ll finish with some exterior shots of the parliament from Canongate.

The Scottish Parliament website has information on how to book tours. I found this general tour fascinating and I hope to go back to take a more specialised tour soon – maybe literature or art.

77 thoughts on “A tour of the Scottish Parliament

  1. lisadorenfest December 31, 2017 / 04:48

    What a treat! That debating chamber is magnificent 😍


  2. TheRamblingWombat December 23, 2017 / 05:43

    You don’t want to rush into things too quickly. Good that you gave the building time to settle down before visiting. The main chamber looks amazing though I find the layout unusual. It also seems no provision has been made for a second chamber, should that be needed in the future. This aspect reminds me of the Northern Territory Parliament building in Darwin, Australia. It too currently only has one operating chamber but across the hallway is an identically sized room which today houses the ‘state library’. In the event of the Territory attaining Statehood this would become a second chamber.


    • Anabel Marsh December 23, 2017 / 08:23

      That’s very true – there are lots of rooms in various buildings that we didn’t see, but I’m not sure if there’s one big enough for a second chamber. The parliament relies on the committee system for scrutiny and revision, and a common criticism is that it doesn’t have a second chamber. (I’m sure if we did it would be a lot more democratic than the Lords!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • TheRamblingWombat December 24, 2017 / 08:20

        Hmm when I look at the upper house in Australia I say give me the unelected Lords any day!


          • TheRamblingWombat December 24, 2017 / 09:20

            Very, very bad and the lower house is no better!!! How ironic that they refer to themselves as Honourable Members. Most assuredly, not a term used by the public at large to refer to them.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. pommepal December 22, 2017 / 20:46

    I think it is always a good idea to go round these historical places (would it be classed historical if it was only built in 2004?) with a guide, you can learn so much more about the history and background


    • Anabel Marsh December 22, 2017 / 21:46

      Oh, I think it can be considered historic! And yes, I was very glad of the guide.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. hilarymb December 22, 2017 / 02:15

    Hi Anabel – I’m saving this to look at over the next few days … it looks so interesting to find out more about it … have a lovely Christmas and festive season – take care and enjoy John, family, friends and all .. cheers Hilary


    • Anabel Marsh December 22, 2017 / 08:08

      Thanks Hilary – I hope you have a great time too.


  5. RuthsArc December 21, 2017 / 10:17

    Thanks for the tour, Anabel. The outside of the building has intrigued me on various visits to Edinburgh, but I’ve never been inside.


  6. Denzil December 20, 2017 / 07:32

    I don’t know all the pros and cons about it Anabel, but from your pictures it looks a very striking building. Thanks for this info. I wish you both a lovely Christmas

    Liked by 1 person

  7. maristravels December 19, 2017 / 20:41

    I/ve read this a few times and enjoyed it tremendously. I’m really impressed with the building and just love the Burns head done in matchsticks. What a glorious colour as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh December 19, 2017 / 21:18

      Thank you! Approval of the building is definitely ahead in the comments.


      • Anabel Marsh December 19, 2017 / 20:25

        It was! (And I have trouble with autocorrect too, or my brain running too fast for my fingers.)


  8. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) December 19, 2017 / 17:44

    Scottish Parliament looks so much more modern than Westminster! I think, in a way, it must make it easier to get things done if you don’t have the weight of history and tradition pressing down on everything (not that there’s anything wrong with history, but tradition can present a lot of problems!). I love Burns’s head, and Travelling the Distance sounds great too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel Marsh December 19, 2017 / 18:42

      I think it’s much easier to get things done – tradition for tradition’s sake alone is not a good idea.


  9. www.retirementreflections.com December 19, 2017 / 16:45

    Thank you for this tour, Anabel. I hadn’t realized that the Scottish Parliament was so unconventional. I will definitely add this to my list if visiting Scotland again.


    • Anabel Marsh December 19, 2017 / 17:14

      It’s worth a visit, definitely. I’m glad it’s so different from Westminster – modern vs archaic.


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