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SRB Diary: Boredom – Scottish Review of Books
by Todd McEwen

SRB Diary: Boredom

October 28, 2009 | by Todd McEwen

The Boredom of Glass at Greenside

To Calton Hill on October 9, for what was promised to be a more “real” response to the new Parliament. For those of us who live near Picardy Place, Calton Hill has all but disappeared behind two large volumes of glass, archetypical behemoths of our new capital. One contains a sweep of hideous, synthetic restaurants, the other, seemingly, nothing at all. The absolute boredom this architecture radiates! We passed a bored-looking mannie, sitting looking cold with his tinnie. He looked annoyed at those who were going up his hill; he also seemed to proclaim, in his choice of seat, that he would not be shopping today, which was what most in town were doing. Out of boredom.

The people were bored with the Parliament and its breast-beating inhabitants. They were bored with the building, its atrocious, unforgivable cost, bored with the idea of the Queen showing up and pouring tonnes of official boredom all over it. They were bored with the hollow conviction any statement or action by the Parliament exudes. They were profoundly bored with the idea of an alternative celebration, or cerebration. The bored took their boredom onto Princes Street. As usual.

Not Another Parliament!

In 1632, Charles I told the Court of Session it could not continue to sit in St Giles’ – that was a profanation. There was a “lack of convenient and fitt roumes within this burgh”. Sound familiar? Panic – a psychological state akin to boredom – and the Town Council began building Parliament House.

In 1707, the people didn’t seem so bored as they did on October 9 this year. The impending Treaty of Union was burned in public. Glasgow rioted for a month. Every day an unhappy crowd surrounded the Parliament House. Lord Queensberry, Commissioner of the treaty, was chased in his coach down the High Street and Canongate by a mob of the politically astute.

But the Parliament was lost. And that began an almost interminable epoch of acute and painful boredom for Scotland, for if there is anything more boring than England, it is sitting on a fence for three hundred years in all Caledonian weathers.

Unwinged Victory

We walked up the hill from Regent Road, on the lane that runs behind the old Royal High School. Was this a bad omen? Thomas Hamilton designed this pretty building almost entirely in the Doric order; it has elements of the little temple of ‘Unwinged Victory’ at the Acropolis, and of the stoa, or market colonnade. The idea of unwinged victory my head, unasked-for, connected depressively to this day. The restatement of the marketplace you may see on Greenside, and all over town.

I tried not to look at the school too fondly – after all, how much would ‘they’ possibly have spent making it the debating centre of the new Parliament? Nice big office building across the road too. Oops! Spent it! In 1977!

Carpe Diem

We were expecting to find an enthusiastic, milling crowd as we crested the hill, but all we saw was a police van parked overlooking Holyrood. Far, far away in the park, high above Radical Road (a portent?) someone had planted a tiny white banner. What did it say? It seemed to read, ‘HOPE’. We crested another hillock, walking around the National Monument.

Helicopters were circling, ‘protecting’ some body or some thing. They could have been used to drive the populace up here, sweeping down on the very doors of Jenners: “People of Scotland! Proceed to Calton Hill immediately! Carpe diem!”


Guy with a microphone, hardly setting the world on fire. By my count some three hundred souls. There were more people on the postcards being handed out, which depicted the event like a merry circus, a political Meadows Festival, complete with face-painting.

It doesn’t take much not to draw a crowd in Edinburgh. Even the possibility of freedom and national independence will do it.

But Mr Sheridan

Is a powerful speaker, and a hoarse one. Somehow his own vocal chords carried his message beyond the abilities of the truly pathetic sound system in the truly predictable lorry from which he spoke. “We want freedom from the Crown”, he said. And yes, standing up here, looking down on that ugly, schizophrenic building, which was vibrating with what sounded like a glorified SWRI programme, we did.

Answers to Mr Sheridan’s Rhetorical Questions. By the Man Standing Behind Me

– Aye. –  Aye, man. – Scottish. – Fuckin’ Scottish, man. – Scottish.

Another on the Way

Mr Sheridan and his wife are to have a baby soon. He expressed the hope that it might be born with one clenched fist, a small red flag in the other hand.

Ouch, Mrs Sheridan.

Drawing Near

This was an uncomfortable gathering. Many were missed. Where were the ‘stars’ of the left? In vain would you have looked for them, even if you had broken into the Observatory and borrowed the telescope. Except when Mr Sheridan was speaking, people talked among themselves.

There came some very bad music. God, it was awful. This was a terrible sign. I hated that boredom had seeped in here, from the city down below, for I share these hopes and dreams.

When Miss Kane got up to read the ‘Declaration of Independence’, the crowd quieted, and drew near. The crowd drew near, as they might have in old Parliament Square, and it was a moment to remember.

The Boredom of Obscenity/ The Obscenity of Boredom

What a good idea, to end this little rout with obscenity! A Comedian, trying to rally the crowd, obscenely attempting to suggest our little group had the same power, the same élan, even the same rights, as those below in Miralles-land: “I wish I had a big cock, so I could piss all over them!” he said. “But no matter – we have pissed on them politically”.

No – this man pissed all over himself, and possibly on us. Was this any way to end such a gathering, to feel we had been made fools of? But we were still dry, so I guess he was right – he doesn’t have a very big cock.

Not Another Parliament!

It felt strange to have behind us the National Monument, abandoned forever in 1829. Perhaps this was a bad omen as well. In 1908 it was suggested that it could be made part of a new group of buildings for a proposed Scottish Parliament!


No one ever seems to get anything together up here on Calton Hill.

Boredom, Uses of Ellipsis In

Scotland… Scotland… Scotland…

Down Jacob’s Ladder

In the spirit of inquiry, of friendship, of boredom, we trooped down to Holyrood. By one o’clock the Canon-gate was already deserted of whatever boring jollity it had witnessed. From inside the Parliament there came many charming noises: pop stars, movie stars, children singing, bad poetry. You’re never far from the village hall in Scotland.

The Site

They used to make useful beer here, for God’s sake.

The Queen

The Queen always looks bored, bored out of her skull, by everything; she’s a little heroine to us all. But consider: if she’d had a look around this crazy building and said, ‘I don’t like it,’ the people of Scotland would have immediately taken it to their hearts, forever. The First Minister’s biggest headache would be over. He’d be on Cloud Nine.

But she never says anything.


The public have the right to be murderously furious about the cost of the Parliament, possibly forever. But coming down from the hill, it was plain to see that the old buildings never would have done. Power, it seems, now has to be seated in new buildings, made of glass and rhetoric and marketing, in a nation which is in real danger of being driven by hubris rather than conviction.

As a taxpayer, I ask a small and necessary atonement for this colossal error be made by MSPs: give up your salaries. Serve us for free, for a generation. Two? Three? Put the money back – in this way we may adhere to the Scottish ideal of thrift, which seems all but to have died. Then we would no longer honour career politicians; we could have representatives with ideals, and ideas. And were our MSPs selected direct from the people, as those on a jury – it could never be boring. It would never be boring again.

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