Britain Votes: Ikea parliament nearly ready

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MEMBERS OF the Scottish Parliament taking a look over their future place of work this weekend will need to go carefully. The varnish in the parliament's temporary home is still sticky and the corridors busy with workmen.

Converting the austere Church of Scotland Assembly Hall into a modern debating chamber, and nearby council offices into committee rooms has cost some pounds 7m. The hotchpotch of buildings near the top of Edinburgh's Royal Mile will be the parliament's home for at least two years, until the pounds 50m extravaganza beside Holyrood Palace is completed.

Looming over Princes Street Gardens, the 19th century Assembly Hall is one of the imposing designs of William Playfair that earned Edinburgh its "Athens of the North" sobriquet. But it is cramped, and MSPs, civil servants and journalists will spend time scuttling between annexes in former council buildings.

Nearby watering holes such as the Jolly Judge and Deacon Brodies Tavern can expect brisk business if the 129 MSPs have anything like their Westminster counterparts' penchant for plotting in smoke-filled bars. Some may be driven there anyway since the parliament complex is a no-smoking zone.

The beamed and balconied debating chamber is suggestive of the wooden hall of a legendary Norse ruler. The hardbacked pews have been replaced by pale wooden desks like some flat-pack kit from Ikea. Blue swivel chairs and the desk-top computer voting consoles complete the image.

MSPs will take the oath in the chamber at the first official sitting next Wednesday. They will also elect a Presiding Officer (Speaker) and two deputies. It will be a secret ballot, however a likely winner is Lord Steel, the former Liberal Democrat leader.

With more work being done in committees than at Westminster, and a "family- friendly" timetable, MSPs are expected to spend only about 10 hours a week in the chamber.

There is a corridor outside the chamber where MSPs and reporters can exchange confidences. It is known as the black and white corridor on account of its bold chequerboard tiling, but even in the era of New Politics what transpires there will probably be in shades of murkiest grey.