Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Scotland Office

I spent part of this evening
at a British Council Scotland reception at the Scotland Office on Whitehall. I'm sure the British Council does fine work but I have to confess that I only went along to nose around the home of the Scottish/Scotland Office for the past 121 years. It is, on first impressions, a very fine building with a Regency rotunda as you enter and an elegant staircase. Some of the decor, however, looks a bit tatty but then presumably it isn't a budgetary priority these days. The fine oil paintings of former Scottish Secretaries which used to hang on the main landing have also been moved downstairs. These (courtesy of the Government Art Collection) are to constitute the cover of my book, The Scottish Secretaries, and certainly look quite striking. They have been replaced with some modern works, as have those in the main reception room, while officials wait for three Stuart portraits to arrive from the GAC.

One of my fellow guests was the Earl of Dundee, whose father - James Scrymgeour-Wedderburn - was an under secretary at the Scottish Office in the 1930s and '40s. It's a shame I didn't interview Lord Dundee for my tome as he remembered a lot of useful things his father told him about his time as a Minister, including the fact that Sir Godfrey Collins (Scottish Secretary from 1932-36) was quite senile during his last year as Secretary of State.

The Scotland Office is a curious entity as it now lies within the Department for Constitutional Affairs, although has some degree of autonomy. The elegance of the building does not quite match the department's diminished responsibility, but beyond 10 Downing Street must be one of the most pleasant Government buildings in Whitehall.


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