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Joan McAlpine: We need answers over Glasgow School of Art and only a full, public inquiry will get them

© Ken Jack - Corbis/Corbis via Getty ImagesGSA chair Muriel Gray gives evidence to MSPs’ committee last year
GSA chair Muriel Gray gives evidence to MSPs’ committee last year

The Mackintosh building is probably the greatest piece of art ever produced in this country and its destruction meant the whole world, not just Scotland, lost a treasure.

That is why the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee decided to investigate, giving most scrutiny to the events leading up to the fire in 2018 which, we believed, were inextricably linked to the fire of 2014.

Historic buildings are particularly vulnerable during restoration and, simply, the 2018 fire would not have happened without the 2014 fire. The management action – or inaction – in the years leading up to the first conflagration are critical.

We were told how sophisticated sprinklers, a mist suppression system, recommended in 2006 had not been fitted; how staff joked about how quickly they could escape the building in event of a fire; and how experts had warned the original ventilation ducts would act like chimneys if a fire broke out. That was in the 1990s. In 2014, when disaster struck, the ventilation ducts acted like chimneys and the mist suppression system was not fully installed.

REVEALED: £10m of taxpayers’ money was given to art school after blaze. Not one penny was spent on fire damage

When the chair and acting director of the Glasgow School of Art gave evidence to the committee, they were unable to say what lessons had been learned in 2014. We do know, however, that four years later, there was still no fire suppression system in place and the ducts which accelerated the first fire were still not blocked. Now the Sunday Post’s investigation suggests restoring the Mackintosh was not the only priority for the management of Glasgow School of Art in the months and years after the fire of 2014.

There was another priority, a plan to expand the campus to attract more international fee-paying students. The reports add weight to our committee’s main recommendation that a full public inquiry with judicial powers should examine this whole affair.

First, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service must be allowed to complete their investigation with a report expected soon. After that, there will be more questions to answer. They can only be properly answered by a full and public inquiry.

In our investigations, the committee also received correspondence from two former directors of the school. Both said the restoration of the building would be too challenging for the current management. The board ignored their views and, with no consultation, management announced they intended to rebuild The Mack as a working art school.

That was, however, no surprise. GSA management has consistently ignored the concerns of their neighbours, their staff, politicians and experts.

They dismissed our report and attacked some of our witnesses but that approach will not wash at a judicial inquiry. Following the recent revelations, that inquiry is needed more than ever.


Joan McAlpine is an MSP and Convener of Holyrood’s Culture Committee