Books: The Annals of the Holyrood Parish

Rating (out of 5)

‘The Annals of the Canongate Parish’ has a promising title, and manages to live up to it, though not perhaps in ways the ‘average reader’ might expect.

Covering the previous decade of the Scottish Parliament’s sessions, attendants and to some degree impacts, it does what it says on the cover in considerable detail, some of which may prove less than scintillating to the non-specialist reader.

Aimed, one suspects, at students of politics, formal or informal and sufficiently comprehensive in its coverage to very probably prove a source of reference citation in time to come, although the 324 pages of closely printed text come without benefit of an index, which may limit the use made of it by afore-mentioned students unwilling to work their way through Bort’s text.

‘The Annals of the Holyrood Parish’ borrows its title, of course, from the novel ‘Annals of the Parish’ by failed politician John Galt, a work providing a parochial-eyed view of change in Scotland over the eighteenth century.

What is offered here is both rather less and considerably more. The gossipy narrative of Galt is replaced with a sober series of accounts of parliamentary sessions, cabinet re-shuffles and by-election results.

As a record of a group of (mostly) decent folk trying to make life in Scotland a little better than before, in the face of the external pressures of a Westminster administration with which the Scottish Parliament has been increasingly out of step, the limitations created by supra-national organisations and globalised companies, and the constraints placed upon Holyrood at its creation, Bort’s text is admirable in its comprehensive chronicling of events.

It provides us with a record and timely reminder of what a Scottish Parliament has managed to achieve over the past ten years, while, like a good but critical friend, being aware of some of its blunders – the embarrassing bureaucratic car-crash has become, the ban on kerb-crawling whilst laying the ground-work for a Police Scotland which has proved to ready to adopt a ‘Strathclyde model’ of zero tolerance of licensed ‘massage parlours’ and tolerance zones, to name but two.

As already suggested, the level of detail in Bort’s text is more than enough to keep the most hardened of political hacks satisfied, and his discussion of more recent events leading to the Edinburgh Agreement and initiation of the present Referendum campaigns maintains this quality.

However, in an age of large-scale disaffection from the political process, there remains a need to explain and illuminate this transparent and open institution to those it represents. Another set of annals of this particular parish remains to be written.

‘Annals of the Holyrood Parish’ Eberhard Bort, Grace Note Publications, 2014, £15.00 isbn 978-1-907676-50-5