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Wednesday, 5 April, 2000, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Holyrood: The Great Debate
Mound chamber
The Holyrood project got the go-ahead
BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor explains the background to the vote on the Holyrood project.



The main motion was in the name of Sir David Steel, the parliament's Presiding Officer and convener of the corporate body, which controls the building project.

This motion asked parliament simply to note the report of the corporate body and the report of the independent architect John Spencely.

It was a holding motion to allow the debate to proceed.

The real choice for MSPs lay in two amendments:

1. An amendment in the name of Labour backbencher Gordon Jackson (and other Labour and LibDem MSPs).

This urged MSPs to:

  • Approve the corporate body report on Spencely

  • To establish a new progress group to get the project back on track

  • To complete the scheme design

  • To endorse Holyrood at a cost of 195m with completion due by 2002.

2. An amendment in the name of Liberal Democrat backbencher Donald Gorrie. plus the SNP's Margo MacDonald and Alex Fergusson, of the Tories.

This urged MSPs to:

  • Support a rethink, demanding by early June a re-evaluation of two other sites. These options are Calton Hill - essentially the present Scottish Executive HQ at St Andrews House with a new-build chamber.

    The other is the present chamber on the Mound with surrounding buildings acquired, if possible, from the Church of Scotland and Edinburgh University Divinity Faculty.


The Holyrood Vote

On 17 June 1999, MSPs previously discussed Holyrood.

A critical amendment then by Donald Gorrie was only defeated by three votes (64 to 61) - with seven Liberal Democrats voting with the opposition and against the "coalition" line.

As then, Wednesday's vote was ostensibly a free vote, but it felt more like a vote of confidence in the executive.

The Jackson amendment won through by 67 votes to 58.

The Gorrrie amendment was defeated by 67 votes to 58.


Holyrood history

The Holyrood site was chosen by Donald Dewar in his previous role as Scottish Secretary. That is a key source of much of the present discontent.

If MSPs had been consulted, they would have been obliged to take ownership of the project.

9 January 1998: Mr Dewar names Holyrood as the chosen site after earlier scrutiny of three others: Calton Hill, Leith or Haymarket.

July 1998: Five architect teams submitted plans. Enric Miralles, from Barcelona (in partnership with RMJM of Edinburgh), is chosen by a panel chaired by Mr Dewar.

6 May 1999: The elections to the new Scottish Parliament are held.

1 June 1999:Control of the building project formally passes from Donald Dewar to the parliament's cross-party corporate body, convened by Sir David Steel.

The corporate body includes one MSP each from Labour, the SNP, the Tories and the LibDems.

24 February 2000: After reports of rising costs, Sir David Steel announces that an independent assessor - John Spencely - has been asked to review the project.

30 March 2000: Spencely reported.

5 April 2000: MSPs voted to continue the project but with guarantees over funding and timescale.


Holyrood costs

July 1997: The UK Government White Paper on devolution includes a very rough estimate for the building. This is 10m-40m.

December 1997: Feasibility studies of the various sites. Holyrood is said to be 50m for construction only. (St Andrews House is put at 65m, the others at 50m).

January 1998: Cost estimate of 50m is used for Holyrood. Total cost - including VAT, fees, fitments etc. - is put at about 90m.

May 1999: Building plans firmed up. Estimate now 62m. This is for construction only. Total 109m. This figure passes to the corporate body in June.

January 2000: Speculation that cost may have risen to 230m. Project team seeks savings.

30 March 2000: Spencely confirms that top cost is 230m but that lower-cost version available for about 190m.

April 2000: Corporate Body firms up costs at 195m - including a small contingency fund.


Holyrood dates:

The original estimated completion time was Autumn 2001. Spencely does not believe it will be ready for entry until Christmas Eve 2003.

The design and project teams insist it can be constructed by the end of 2002 with MSPs moving in early in 2003.


The Spenceley Report

Spencely traced the project very thoroughly. Key points:

  • He blamed a lack of communication between corporate body and design/project teams

  • Urged a new progress team of MSPs and building experts to take the project forward

  • Queried Mr Dewar's handover estimate of 62m

  • Disclosed that there was a "design uncertainty" estimate of 89m, prepared by officials. Mr Dewar says he wasn't given that figure and that it was reasonable for officials to withhold it as it contained figures that weren't robust.

  • Urged an end to brief changes.

  • Warned that moving away from Holyrood would waste more time and money.


Holyrood Issues

The costs issue is now under scrutiny by Parliament's Audit Committee.

  • Delays: These have largely been caused by changes to the brief. The size of the parliament has increased substantially - because it became clear that more space would be needed for MSPs, staff, committees etc.

    A big delay was caused by arguments over the shape and size of the chamber. MSPs generally must share responsibility for this.

  • Queensberry House: Ancient mansion on site due to be incorporated into the parliament.

    Some say it's historic, most think it's hideous. Its restoration is costing much more than planned, about 11m. A key factor in costs and delays.

    Spencely said knock it down - and start again. The design team simply can't face another fight with conservationists.

  • Blame: Sir David Steel says the buck now stops with him and the corporate body.

    Opposition nationalists and Conservatives have been keener to pin the blame on Mr Dewar, who made the original decisions.


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    05 Apr 00 | Scotland
    MSPs back Holyrood project
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