Gina Davidson: Taking what is rightfully ours

Parliament Hall has been mistakenly given to the government. Picture: JON SAVAGE
Parliament Hall has been mistakenly given to the government. Picture: JON SAVAGE
Have your say

ARE you remotely interested in the fact that Parliament House is no longer owned by you, a citizen of Edinburgh?

It’s entirely possible that the existence of the building, which includes Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall directly below it, has escaped your knowledge. The notion that you may actually have owned it would be news as unexpected as discovering you were related to royalty.

But Parliament House is one of the city’s oldest buildings, built in 1640 through subscriptions raised from the people of Edinburgh on land gifted to the city by the then monarch. It was constructed to ensure there’d always be a home for a Scottish Parliament.

And, as with all things owned by the people, it was put into the hands of the town council to manage and administer. Over the centuries this meant it was part of the city’s Common Good Fund, along with the Meadows, Princes Street Gardens and the Ross Fountain among others.

Over the same centuries the place has become part of the Scottish Courts complex. Parliament Hall was used as a meeting place by lawyers and advocates, the Laigh Hall as the advocates’ library – all happily accepted by the council and the building’s owners, the people of the city – although whether any rent was ever paid has been lost in the mists of time.

Yet now, because of what appears to be major ineptitude on behalf of council officials, we – you – no longer own this ancient, important building.

Back in 2006 when a plan to revamp the courts complex – at a cost of £58m – was being discussed, attempts were made by the Scottish Government to establish just who owned Parliament House. So “someone” in the government spoke to “someone” in the council and were told that it didn’t own Parliament House without making, it appears, any reference to the Common Good archives. Why? Who knows – maybe there were concerns that some of the bill for the building’s refurbishment would land on the council’s doormat.

The government then went to the Keeper of Registers (the person who awards title deeds) and asked for a “voluntary registration” – that the building be put in its name.

This was agreed – despite the government’s obvious lack of being able to provide evidence it was the owner. Furthermore the Keeper did not, as he was entitled to do, insert a clause in the deeds suggesting that if an owner was to appear within ten years the deeds would revert back. Did political pressure come to bear on the Keeper? Do you care? You should. For too long the Common Good Fund has been providing little good to the people of Edinburgh. We own important, historical land and buildings and obviously there are others who’d like to own them too – and if they can get away without paying for them so much the better. Questions which surround the change of ownership of Parliament House need answered. MSP Alison Johnstone is raising it in Parliament, oppositions councillors are demanding an inquiry. The Scottish Government needs to own up to the mistake and give the building back.

For surely if it takes an Act of Parliament for the council to give five metres of Common Good Fund land in Princes Street Gardens to the National Gallery of Scotland, it cannot be right that a whole building can just be lost to the people of Edinburgh without a single raised eyebrow.

Nat’s just not fair for Kezia

IT’S fascinating that the revelation Kezia Dugdale’s father is a member of the SNP has caused such glee among Nationalists.

I’m sure they imagine Kezia, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, is mortified at her own flesh and blood being in the other camp and that they have claimed “a scalp”.

That a major family rift has opened up.

But where were those now making merry with Henry Dugdale’s political affiliations when he was a Tory voter? In the spirit of all the jollity then, dare it be suggested that he is now, in fact, a Tartan Tory?

Unfinished work at Engine Shed

TOMORROW will be an incredibly sad day in St Leonard’s and in the homes of all who have benefited from the existence of The Engine Shed bakery and cafe for the last 25 years.

It is its last day of operation since the council decided that it was no longer going to fund the acclaimed organisation which has offered catering training to young adults with learning disabilities in order to get them into work.

Whatever plan the council now has in store for helping the same vulnerable young people The Engine Shed has done for a quarter of a century, it has to be effective – and far more effective than the Shed – or this decision will prove yet another major fail by our councillors.

Tolling of the parish bell

THE Catholic Church has many problems.

Now the plan is to amalgamate parishes. The result will be even fewer congregation numbers as people won’t want to travel miles on a Sunday morning.

Sadly there’s no talk of women priests or allowing priests to marry.

Could John Knox’s desire finally be coming true through the Church’s own failings?

Ducking the issues

Is there some political cowardice around controversial planning issues at the council? The decision not to vote on the local plan until after the general election proves the point.