Dover House,

the London base

for Secretaries

of State for

Scotland could soon be facing a new chapter

THE future of Dover House, the impressive mansion in Whitehall which is the traditional London base of Secretaries of State for Scotland, now hangs in the balance.

The news, revealed in The Herald today, that the Prime Minister is set to scrap the Scotland Office means that a new chapter could soon begin in the building's already long and chequered his-tory.

Many of our most powerful, and colourful, politicians have used it during their tenure as Secretary of State and many key decisions on Scotland's future have been made in its sumptuous meeting rooms.

From arguably the greatest of them all, Labour's wartime in-cumbent Tom Johnston, through Willie Ross and Bruce Millan to the string of Conservative holders of the post during the Thatcher years such as George Younger, Malcolm Rifkind, and Michael Forsyth.

Long meetings involving Mr Forsyth in November, 1996, finally persuaded John Major and his Cabinet to return the Stone of Destiny to Edinburgh after 700 years. It was a popular move in some circles but was never going to save the Tories from a political wipeout in the following year's election.

Dover House has been a high-society love-nest and the site of negotiations which led to the Act of Union, as well as the London base for Secretaries of State for Scotland.

It was originally built for Sir Matthew Featherstonehaugh between 1754 and 1758. But its fame and notoriety came 50 years later when it was owned by William Lamb, later to become Prime Minister.

His wife Caroline had a torrid affair with the poet Byron which scandalised London society.

The room which was her bedroom is now used as an office for Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson.

It still has the rope ladder which she installed so Byron, who had a club foot and liked a drink or three, could clamber up to her chambers.

The Scottish connection was established when it was bought in 1885 by the then Duke of Richmond and Gordon, a Tory and the first secretary for Scotland. The present building stands on the site of the court theatre of the old Stuart palace in Whitehall, which in 1706 was the venue for the negotiations leading to the Union of Parliaments.

Dover House, which was fully restored after being bomb-damaged in the Second World War, is entered through a large and grand oval-shaped hallway.

A flight of stairs takes you up to the Secretary of State's office, about the size of a tennis court, and other rooms are equally grand.

Dover House provides spacious offices for Scottish Secretary John Reid, Scottish Minister of State Brian Wilson, Scottish Advocate-General Lynda Clark, Locate in Scotland, and visiting Ministers and officials of the Scottish Executive.

There has been speculation in recent months as to what the future holds for Dover House, including the much-denied suggestion that the Blairs will take it over for a Presidential-style residence. What seems far more likely is that the building, on which the Scotland Office has a lease until 2014, will be the base for a new super department for the regions as well as being used for economic development meetings.

The elegant office in Whitehall will continue to be used by civil servants and Scottish Ministers while on business in London. It could also be developed as a mini embassy for Scotland, with promotion agencies like Locate in Scotland using its facilities.

Dover House in future could become a similar office to that being planned by the Scotland Office for Brussels.

Scotland House will become the Brussels headquarters of the new Scottish Executive. It will share the new accommodation with Scotland Europa, a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise.

Scotland Europa, established four years ago, has its own office, but it will move in with officials of the Scottish Executive under plans due to be announced in the new year.

The Scottish National Party has always insisted that Dover House should be retained for Scotland-related uses. We must await the outcome with interest.