the democratic spectacle

It was a cold day; the sun was low and covered by fog. And we were about to enter the vaults. Once inside, up to eight guards were waiting for us. We were asked to place our bags on a tray to be inspected. We are so used to live in fear that we were not surprised by these precautions.
The alarm went on. I retroceded, emptied my pockets and crossed the detector again. The alarm went on for the second time. I was, then, taken apart and a male guard checked my whole body with his hands and a handheld metal detector. Awkwardness. Silence. Until he reached my shoes: safety boots. They were pleased enough with that finding and we were allowed in.
Thus, feeling like a criminal, I entered for the first time the Scottish Parliament.

I lived in Edinburgh when they were building the edifice. I wondered what was hiding behind the thick curtain and when it would be finished. It took a long time before the mistery was unveiled. And I liked the outcome.
The modernity of the steel materials reminded the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, yet the local stones gave the Parliament a strong and definite Scottish personality. It was an astonishing building and I could not wait to see it from inside. But I had to leave Edinburgh and the visit was forever delayed. Until now. It has been over two years. I have get used to the building. It is part of Edinburgh. I hardly notice it anymore during my visiting days to Edinburgh. But I was still curious about its interiors. And so were the friends that joined me that day.
When we managed to get through security, we were greeted by a dark, yet warm, basement. We were not expecting that first impression. We had seen previous debating sessions on TV and we had in our minds brightly lighted interiors. Instead, we were confronted by an overall darkness which, combined with the crosses engraved on the ceiling, led us to think that we were entering an old Cathedral.
After overlooking the exhibition on the main hall we walked towards the staircase. There, a security guard indicated us the way upstairs whilst blocking a further section on the low ground. We asked to see the rest of the lower floor, but he said it was a restricted area. We wanted to quote Enric Miralles (the architect who designed the building) saying that the Parliament was a building of the people, but we did not dare. We just assumed that it meant of a better class of people.

From the stairs, we enjoyed the mixture of materials used. The raw stones on the walls, the premeditatedly unfinished-looking lights hanging at different levels from the roof with their thick black cables visible. It was the beauty of imperfection. But we didn’t like the wood surrounding it. Its light colour and squared shape was impeding our complete enjoyment. We were expecting to see a contorting space, a Scottish HundertWasser Haus, and the straight lines traced by the wood were hiding these qualities.

Upstairs, another security guard showed us the way into the debating chamber and told us that photos were not allowed.
At last. After 10 different guards, we had finally reached the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament.
We had seen it on television and it looked the same. The same bent wooden individual tables where the MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) sit during the sessions. The same semicircular shape. There was only one surprise: we were not allowed anywhere near the hemicycle. Visitors were kept on the top part of the Chamber. We were crowded all together in a colorful mixture of bright clothes and nationalities visibly contrasting with the overall darkness of the suits of the MSPs. “A building for the people, but without the people”, said one of my friends. And he was right. There were no Scottish people assisting as public. Maybe they were too engaged with the actual procedures of the country. Maybe they did not trust the politicians anymore. Maybe it was a symbol of the defective democracy we have. A democracy that, against Plato’s indications, does not allow public participation, but just the participation of representatives.

We did not enjoy the session. I think only few people did.
It was interesting for a while to see the performance, to watch the actors playing the game of politics, but it ceased to be entertaining when we realised that nothing would be improved as a consequence of that session.
The experience became unpleasant not after the multiple security checks, but when we felt colder than before entering the Parliament because we were sitting in uncomfortable wooden chairs whilst the MSPs were comfortably sitting on their expensive cushioned chairs.

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