Brian Monteith: How about a Portakabin Parliament?

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This week Nicola Sturgeon went to London – but why not bring London to us? Instead of breaking with the Union, as the SNP and other nationalist socialists wanted, why not consider ways to strengthen the unity of Britain seeing as we have now endorsed Scotland’s continued place in the UK? One way to do that would be to move the mother of ­parliaments to Edinburgh.

What?! Does it sound fanciful and expensive? Well I’m serious and I’ve checked the diary and it’s not 1st April but Friday 13th!

Those that have seen Michael Cockerell’s BBC documentary Inside the Commons will realise that the Palace of Westminster is in a dreadfully poor state. It has had too many patch-up jobs, too many bolt-ons, and is creaking to a halt. The plumbing and electrics are past being outdated, they are positively archaic. Trying to accommodate all the new IT is a constant challenge. It is no use trying to do running repairs during the parliamentary recesses, the Palace of Westminster is badly in need of renovation and it is past being just a quick fix.

It needs to be closed not just to the public but to politicians and their staff so the builders can get in and do their job properly.

Nobody’s admitting it yet but the building can no longer cope with the demands being placed upon it. Being unhindered by all the daily 
parliamentary business the builders can have greater access to do the task better and quicker and save money in the long run. Only that way can this ancient building be brought into the modern era and preserved as a working parliament.

But what then could we do with all the politicians and their staff, the journalists and lobbyists? Although I’m tempted to say they could take a two-year holiday and we might not notice (believing as I do that politicians have a bad habit of creating more problems than they solve) the obvious answer is to move the parliamentary sessions to the UK’s other great capital – Edinburgh.

I know eyes will roll at the thought of the cost – but there is going to have to be a cost when the time comes to fix the Houses of Parliament – so let’s use the cost as an investment – as commitment to strengthening the Union. It’s not as if there’s a second parliament in London to use, and as people come from all over the UK to attend why does it have to stay in London?

For the two or three years it would take to complete the refurbishment the 650 MPs could meet in a custom-built parliamentary chamber located in one of many possible sites in Edinburgh. Instead of looking for a particular building we could erect a carbon copy of the debating chamber – just like all those TV and film sets used for political dramas. In fact we could possibly borrow the green benches from some of the ones kept in storage. Temporary committee rooms and MPs offices could easily be built quite tastefully from Portakabins. So what if MPs think they might have to slum it? I’ve worked in some of the Commons’ offices and they are nothing special – a Portakabin would be an improvement for many.

The commercial benefits for Edinburgh and Scotland would be immense. All those hotel bookings, lunches, dinners, massages, golf outings and the like would see the local economy boom like never before. Conferences and seminars would be run by lobbyists seeking to persuade the MPs. Properties would be required for rent and Edinburgh Airport would need more flights. Our taxi drivers would be in clover and the trams might actually be busy. Five Mich­elin star restaurants is more than any other UK city outside London can offer.

The political spin-off would be that the UK would be seen to be leaving its London metropolis and engaging with Scotland. When the Scottish Parliament used to go to Aberdeen and Glasgow during the week of the General Assembly it was a popular success, so why not learn from that example and move Westminster to Edinburgh for a couple of years?

True, there might not be enough room for the House of Lords, but why be greedy, surely they could locate to Glasgow and enjoy all it has to offer? The journey between the two cities is shorter than the time it can take to get to Heathrow or Gatwick from London’s city centre – and, with internet, nowhere is too far away.

It might even encourage the thought of relocating some parliamentary sessions every year to different cities across the British Isles such as Belfast, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

MPs do need to get out and about more!

Would there be a down side? There always is to such upheaval, but the short-term increase in property values, the extra congestion and the sight of some MPs making fools of themselves would be more than outweighed by introducing so many more influential people and their money to Scotland’s capital and the creation of jobs it would bring. If we can cope with the Festival and its Fringe we could ­handle Westminster – just so long as they go home at the end of it!