Morag McCracken, 27, was put forward for the award by her firm Balfour+Manson LLP, and triumphed from a strong field of 26 young Scots from a range of backgrounds, including a police officer, a council gardener and an electricity cable-layer.
She was named the winner of the Young Scotland programme after a residential course in North Queensferry, at which each candidate presented a six-minute paper arguing a case on a subject of “current interest or controversy”. McCracken chose university fees and also spoke about her mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and recently wrote a book on access to the countryside.
The programme founder and chairman, journalist Kenneth Roy, described McCracken’s argument as “an impeccable piece of writing on the hot topic of university fees, exploring whether the Scottish Government is breaching equality legislation. Her paper concludes gutsily that Scotland’s policy is a work of commercial genius. It was an intriguing take on the subject, delivered with a calm, confident presentational style. Her On the Spot question morphed into a moving tribute to her mother.”
McCracken said: “I felt privileged to share the company of the dynamic individuals who attended, each of whom delivered fascinating papers on issues they were passionate about; from the morality of a charity accepting funds from Donald Trump, to harnessing wave power, to neglect of the elderly in the NHS.
“We also had On the Spot speeches to deliver and took part in role-play group work, in which I was cast as the leader of a gang, then a mother of two rebellious teenagers. I feel extremely lucky to have spent three days exploring opinions and interacting in lively debate about a variety of topics I hadn’t even considered when I turned up to the programme. I came away feeling quite humbled by the whole experience.”
The event is part of the Young UK and Ireland Programme, which runs an annual series of residential courses and competitions. The programme aims to encourage the research, writing and presentational abilities of delegates, helping to build confidence and enhancing the talents of more experienced participants.
The residential event also included talks from three guest speakers. Isabel McCue spoke about her son’s mental illness, which led to his suicide, and her subsequent setting-up of a theatre company, Theatre Nemo, to help people with mental illness or in prison. Andy McCarle described how Theatre Nemo had helped him, while Tim Coulson MBE relived the London bombings of July 2005, in which he tended to the gravely wounded, exploring the psychology of his own courage.
“It was quite encouraging for Scotland that there are so many young people out there who have a voice and are interested in what’s going on,” said McCracken, who specialises in pursuer personal injury and clinical negligence cases. “The programme has helped me look at things in a different way, to look at all sides. This was very beneficial to everyone who took part and I think we learned a great deal that will help us throughout our lives.”