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Ye Are Cursed With A Curse!

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,

Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

A distant parable from a distant land and time speaks eloquently to me today as I consider the debacle that is known in these parts as the Holyrood Parliament Project.

The Background of it all

For those who don't know, Scotland now has a devolved parliament from Westminster which began to work out its own socialist mandate last year. This parliament has the power to legislate in education, health and crime amongst other things but the decisions of macroeconomics, defence and foreign policy still reside in London.

It even has tax raising powers up to three pence in the pound, which it fortunately has had the sense not to impose upon the population (so far). As it happened, I missed the national referendum on whether to allow this extra layer of socialism to be imposed on us; but as sure as the proverbial Scotsman wears nothing under his kilt, I would have voted naw! (A local colloquialism for no!). As it happens, a fit of nationalism let them in and I blame Mel Gibson for this because he made Braveheart too near to the vote.

The Mistake that began it all

So, after this initial euphoria, the question of where to house this assemblage of statists arose. Being a race of canny folk, it was naturally suggested that a lot of pennies could be saved by just refurbishing one of Edinburgh's grand old buildings – such as the old Scottish Office on Calton Hill. I think the Scottish Executive must have spent too much time in England, for they jettisoned the prudence of their forefathers and decided to build a brand new building as a fitting symbol of this proud new parliament.

As the English say, Balderdash!

And therein the die was cast for a project that has become a laughing stock as costs have spiralled in the true manner of a project conceived in the womb of statist arrogance. The two numbers you need to know at this stage are the initial cost estimate of 40 million and the current estimate of 230 million with the emphasis on the word current, for this farce has a long way to go yet.

Whoever stuck their wet finger into the ill wind that produced that initial guesstimate, must be hiding under a rock somewhere. Actually, come to think of it, it may have been our own First Minister, Henry McLeish, who originally derided suggestions that the cost may balloon to over 90 million.

As the English say, Poppycock!

I speak with some levity and unashamed plagiarism in telling you the five phases of a Statist project:

  1. Initial euphoria and optimism
  2. Disillusionment and panic
  3. Search for the guilty
  4. Punishment of the innocent
  5. Praise of non-participants

By my reckoning, phase 2 has now been reviewed and signed off as the media bloodhounds sniff along the sorry trail of phase 3. Not surprisingly, no one is currently admitting guilt, and the innocent look decidedly pink around the gills.

The Egotism of it all

But, as a digression, let us briefly review some examples of architectural extensions of political egos from recent and ancient history.

The Romans had no trouble in erecting their grand designs in tax-free Rome; all it required was a handy slave population and foreign tax revenues paid in building materials such as the best marble. Fortunately, the Scottish executive does not have the option of enslaving one third of Central Scotland to get the job finished in time and under budget. That they have employed the nearest thing to slave labour, though, I will mention later.

I was also further informed that the socialist philanderer and well-known monster, Leonid Breshnev, once announced a visit to the communist party chief of some region. Breshnev's ego obviously matched his considerable girth in that the local chief set about erecting a magnificent marble mansion to accommodate the great man during his time there. Whether Breshnev actually occupied it, I cannot tell.

And very recently in our own backyard, the outgoing foreign secretary, Robin Cook, was allowed the personal and continued use of the foreign secretary's official London residence just off the Pall Mall. There was absolutely no political function in granting this very expensive property, it was purely a sweetener to cushion the "trauma" of being dumped from the British Cabinet and gratifying an ego which has a well-known taste for the high life.

How different from the Robin Cook of the 1980s who was seen with the communist-backed CND and their marches. A taste of political power and architectural opulence corrupts indeed.

But for a goodly helping of egotism with a dash of religious piety, one need look no further than former president of the Ivory Coast, Houphouët-Boigny, and his jungle cathedral in Yamoussoukro. Built at an estimated cost of 150 million dollars over three years using 1,500 workers, it is still claimed to be the tallest Catholic basilica in the world.

The dome is 100 metres in diameter and weighs nearly 100,000 tonnes. With the giant portico and colonnade, the central basilica swallowed a year's production of French white concrete. The pews, which seat 7,000, are individually air-conditioned. They are made from kotibe, a local hardwood that was sent to Italy to be shaped.

The altar stands under a giant gilt canopy whose columns conceal 14 massive loudspeakers. Over it hangs a two-metre-tall cross made from 50 kilograms of gold. Surrounding the basilica are 36 stained glass windows more than 30 metres high, a greater area of glass than in France's Chartres Cathedral.

I am both impressed and disgusted at the same time by the actions of this Statist par excellence and I am surprised that the Pope flew in to consecrate this folly in 1990. Apparently, Mass is now only said once a week as locals head off to the other cathedral in town.

It is claimed that Houphouët-Boigny funded the whole project from his private cocoa wealth. That is a lot of chocolate bars, just as the cost of the Scottish parliament is a lot of haggises. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to calculate how many haggises based on the current cost of the Holyrood project would keep the Scottish population alive and for how many parliamentary lifetimes.

The Disaster of it all

As we go back to the project itself, behold with incredulity this timetable of despair:

  • Proposals to use existing buildings rejected in January 1998 in favour of a new site by Holyrood Palace (on a base of volcanic rock) with an initial cost estimate of 10 million to 40 million to be completed in Autumn 2001 (now 2003).
  • Civil servant, Barbara Doig appointed project director.
  • She is sidelined and replaced by Alan Ezzi after four months. His previous attempt at coordinating the building of the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was described as a "catalogue of disasters" by a top-ranking UNISON union official.
  • Cost of project upwardly revised to 109 million in June 1999.
  • By the beginning of 2000, it is realise that the last figure did not take into account VAT (28 million) and management fees (26 million).
  • Conservationists intervene to prevent the demolition of a 17th century mansion on the construction site. Incorporating it into the design adds 11 million to the cost.
  • Controversy arises over the luxury of the architect's "think bubbles" costing 2.2 million. These are self-contained cockpits jutting out of each politician's office wall allowing for times of "meditation" and "reflection" whilst overlooking the beauty of the Salisbury Crags.
  • Upper cost of building capped to 195 million in April 2000.
  • One of the biggest setbacks, when the architect of the building, Enric Miralles, dies aged 45 years on 4th July 2000.
  • Parliamentary audit report condemns secretary of Scottish Executive for failing to keep a check on rising costs.
  • The project committee is criticised for using imported Oak instead of the much cheaper and indigenous Douglas Fir, despite experts saying that the latter is more suitable for the Scottish climate.
  • It was also revealed that the Oak was being shaped by Thai workers on sweatshop wages of 30p per hour. Looks like the slave workforce of Imperial Rome is not quite dead!
  • David Black publishes damning book called All the First Minister's Men – The Truth behind Holyrood in May 2001, which concludes that the final cost will exceed 300 million.
  • Prince Charles is reported to have described the building as an "ugly, modern" eyesore.
  • The project manager, Alan Ezzi, resigns over unspecified disagreements on 19th June 2001 – just 7 months into the job.
  • Upper cost of building capped to 230 million in June 2001.
  • Realising that the 53-year old outgoing manager was a civil service bureaucrat with experience of only one strained major construction project, the Holyrood Progress Committee appoints a 29-year old manageress who was a civil service bureaucrat with no experience of major construction projects.

As to the last point, one can either assume that the committee is lacking something in the common sense department or (more realistically), no person in the private sector with relevant experience in major construction management would now risk their reputation and blood pressure on this now discredited operation.

The Incompetence of it all

It may also be noted in this respect that the previous project manager was salaried at about 65,000. This is a poor wage for a multi-million pound project such as Holyrood and the best manager who can come in a prevent a 100m project becoming a 230m project is literally worth their weight in gold and worthy of the large six figure salaries plus bonuses which are more common in the private sector. By paying peanuts, they have got more peanuts than the monkeys in Edinburgh Zoo.

To be quite frank, it is astonishing that a project of this magnitude did not have proper forecasts for costs based on projected inflation and materials for various phases of its lifetime. It is a mystery to me why those who tendered contracts were not asked for and held to proposed costs. In the unlikely event that this happened in the private sector, heads would have rolled as shareholders and lending institutions rose in united anger – if they had even allowed the project to start at all.

If such a thing is expected of a private individual when he receives quotes for the construction of a domestic house, then how much more is it expected of public projects and not the blank cheque scenario being played out before us today? But where there is lack of accountability, there is sluggishness and presumption.

The conclusion of it all

It is indeed a most fitting realisation of the Galilean's parable and a sober reminder of the squander and unaccountability that go hand in hand with Statist projects since time immemorial.

I implied in a previous article that God is not a statist, and going by the current shower of providential blows raining down on this beleaguered project, He is obviously not blessing this shambles.

Okay, one may argue the point theologically about that, but it gave me half an excuse to choose the title for this article.

In the meantime, I will continue to sit back and watch the slapstick entertainment, and if they are lacking ideas for some more good stunts, may I suggest they watch the Laurel and Hardy film: Busy Bodies.

As the English say: Jolly good show!

June 30, 2001

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