Down the Road

Our trip to Scotland is not all about rugby, distilleries, and nightlife. Today was a perfect example of the academic component of this trip; we visited the Scottish Parliament and the Court of Session, the highest court in Scotland.

After the Act of Union in 1707, the Scottish lacked a Parliament for almost 300 years. However, following a referendum in 1997, the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1998. Since 1999, 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) have been making Scottish law as part of the devolution of powers from the United Kingdom. Today, we had the opportunity to visit their home, opened in 2004. 20130301_063632

To say the building design is interesting is an understatement. However, once our tour guide explained the building design and why it was built the way it was, we gained a sense of appreciation for the design. We found out that the architect specifically meant to incorporate all things Scottish when designing Parliament. When we looked at a model, we noticed that the buildings resemble boats docked in the harbour. The architect also designed the building to look like it was a tree coming out of the ground, complete with leaves. The architect tried to use Scottish materials in constructing the building, including granite, cement and wood.

The architect made sure that transparency played a crucial role in the design. The public are able to peer into the building from the street outside. Even inside the debating chamber, the windows are designed so that people on the outside are able to look inside the chamber. Our tour guide spoke with a sense of pride about this transparency, that the Scottish Parliament is proud that the public has full access to what it does. It has the largest public viewing area in Europe with over 260 seats set aside for the public.

After a quick lunch break, we walked a short distance to the Court of Session, the highest court in Scotland. In contrast to the Parliament, Scotland has always enjoyed an independent judiciary. Lord Woolman, a Senator of the College of Justice, graciously agreed to meet with us. He met us in the front hall, home to the Scottish Parliament up until the Act of Union in 1707. It was fascinating to compare this earlier home of the Scottish Parliament, from hundreds of years ago, to the sparkling new home which we toured this morning. Lord Woolman gave us a tour of the hall, pointing out various paintings and giving background stories.

We then entered  Court 1, where Lord Woolman spoke to us. His story, from 1599, was about the independence of the Scottish judiciary. King James VI favoured one party in a lawsuit, and when he saw that the judges were going to rule against the party he favoured, King James VI said he would make the decision. Lord President Seaton said that although the bench owed loyalty to the King, it was the judges who must determine the law. Lord President Seaton then said that if the King made the decision, the judges would resign. Although the King raged furiously, the decision was not going to be his to make. Sitting in a courtroom that was in use over 400 years ago made the story all the more fascinating.

After meeting with Lord Woolman, we took a tour of the Court of Session. Although it looked small from the outside, we found out that there were 700 rooms on 7 floors. A coffin in a piano storage room, a story about mysterious dead pigeons, and a hatch that took the condemned into Court Room 3 were just some of the things we saw and heard on the tour. When it was all over, we walked out into the Scottish afternoon and the academic component of our week was completed.

Now for our last night in Scotland!

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