Stephen Kerr is the MSP for Central Scotland and a former MP for Stirling. He is the Shadow Secretary for Education & Skills in the Scottish Parliament.
As Conservatives, it should surprise no one that one of our key sources of motivation is conserving those things that we instinctively judge to be good.
In Scotland, we share a collective pride in our country’s natural beauty. Our coasts, glens, and lochs, attract millions of tourists to our nation every year.
I believe that Scots have a duty to not only celebrate this natural beauty but are morally obliged to conserve it.
Scotland’s glorious landscape is known across the world. The dramatic landscape of Glencoe was used in the James Bond Skyfall. Harry Potter fans will instantly recognise Glenfinnan, both for Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Viaduct. Those who watch Outlander will know the colourful scenery of the Royal Burgh of Culross.
And in September this year, Scotland’s beauty was the stage the world saw as the coffin of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was taken from Balmoral Castle to Holyrood Palace. During these sobering six hours, the world understood better why Elizabeth II loved Scotland so much.
Throughout our history, Scotland has shown that we are capable of constructing buildings that complement our natural beauty. Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns show, how at our best, Scotland can mix the old and the new. Whisky distilleries around the coast of Islay represent the tradition of this great Scottish industry. The towns of Ballater, Falkland, Melrose, Pitlochry, and Ullapool show how communities should be shaped by their natural landscape.
And yet for all this beauty, we in Scotland would be kidding ourselves if we said that every part of our nation was beautiful.
In historic towns such as Linlithgow and St Andrews, traditional architecture has been undermined by grey, square, and soulless buildings. One of my members of staff, who studied at the University of St Andrews, consistently says that the undergraduate library would have been better credited to the era of the Soviet Union because it is so depressing.
In Central Scotland, the region that I represent in the Scottish Parliament, there are numerous sites that can only be described as the ugly reality of 1960’s utilitarianism.
Cumbernauld Town Centre is a concrete example of this concrete monstrosity. Once considered a radical new town, the shopping centre has been voted as Britain’s ugliest building and Cumbernauld itself has regularly been voted Scotland’s ugliest town.
In Falkirk, the Town Hall is currently attached to the partially demolished municipal buildings. Despite this fact, local Labour politicians were arguing to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to keep it open.
Proof that socialists don’t understand anything about beauty!
Conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, once wrote that:
“It is not the truth of Marxism that explains the willingness of intellectuals to believe it, but the power that it confers on intellectuals, in their attempts to control the world”.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that left-wing politicians seek the construction of ugly buildings.
Architecture should uplift and inspire people and communities. It should spark the imagination, being a constant reminder that we can be a better version of ourselves and fill us with noble thoughts of serving our communities and country.
But through state planning, Scotland’s architecture has become increasingly monotonous. The uniqueness of architecture that defines villages and towns has been replaced by concrete and stone chips. The variety of colours has been replaced by grey.
This has a psychological impact on the population that live in these areas. It dulls our imagination. It tells us that Government and local authorities believe their environment, their lives, and their wellbeing is less important than others.
Sadly, this helps create the conditions that tells people that they cannot be a success on their own but must rely on the state. As a Conservative I find this repulsive, a reflection of the state and its apparatchiks’ uncaring attitude towards these forgotten and left behind communities.
To show that the SNP Government are no closer to understanding the importance of beauty in the promotion of liberty and aspiration, their National Planning Framework 4 document – the long-term plan for Scotland’s infrastructure – only mentions beauty twice, and in both instances, it is regarding the landscape and not buildings.
Rather than adopt the Levelling-Down approach to infrastructure we have seen from the socialist and nationalist governments of Scotland, the Scottish Conservatives want to introduce a Levelling-Up approach.
Roger Scruton wrote that “Through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world as a home, and in doing so we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows”. This is particularly true in Scotland.
Our natural beauty helps define our nation. To many Scots, it is that rural beauty which led us to fall in love with Scotland.
This love is why I want to conserve Scotland’s beauty and it is why I believe that every member of the Scottish Parliament must strive for their whole area to complement Scotland’s landscape.
In sports, it is often said that you are as strong as your weakest player. If the same approach was taken in Scotland regarding beauty, then we would see a drastic, and long overdue, change in policy.
Levelling-Up is a key theme of UK Government strategy, and rightly so. But Levelling-Up cannot just be seen through the lens of material gain.
To Level-Up properly, we must capture the imagination of the British people. We must show that every life is of equal worth and that life is worth living.
We will do this by promoting and expanding beauty in every community in Scotland and across the whole of the United Kingdom.
As Sir John Hayes MP has said:
“It is time for beauty to be put back at the heart of Government policy.”