Whoever made the decision to declare it a public holiday deserved a gong. National excitement had been building for months. Now Launch Day had arrived.
Tens of thousands crowded the site to watch the spectacle. Scotland’s giant space rocket, Caledonia One (or Tim Peake Two as some had dubbed it), gleamed and shimmered in the morning sun. It may not have matched the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But after a £30 million makeover, the revitalised Prestwick Airport would surely rise to the occasion.
As the countdown began, steam rose from the base of the 50-metre launcher. Hours before, Scotland’s two cosmonauts had climbed aboard their space capsule and been safely strapped in: Flight Commander John Swinney and mission leader Nicola Sturgeon.
Nicola seemed dwarfed in her bulky spacesuit but looked stunning, with her hair in Princess Leia buns. But beside her was the giveaway clue to the urgent purpose of Scotland’s space mission. Her trusty light sabre energy blade to fight off the blaster bolts from the Dark Knights of Westminster barely managed a flicker. The batteries were failing. The money had run oot.
She turned anxiously to Flight Commander Swinney. “Are you sure the flight plan’s accurate? Miss this and we’re doomed to Planet Oblivion. And ah hope you haven’t penny pinched on the rocket maintenance. We wouldn’t want a cracked truss at a critical moment.”
Swinney turned and gave a reassuring smile. “Ah’ve checked all the rivets, Princess. And the dashboard dials are looking good. Anyways, there’s always Gary Gillespie’s pocket compass if anything goes wrong. We’re on course for greatness, sweetheart. Nothing can go wrong!”
And with that, huge sheets of flame leapt from the base of the launcher and Caledonia One rose majestically into the sky, heading into the blue yonder, gathering all the speed of an Andy Murray backhand.
Their destination – a far off planet in the Outer Galaxy, comprised of the richest resources in the known universe: the long dreamt-of, ferociously coveted Alpha Golconda.
Once landed on Golconda and the Saltire planted as territorial claim, Scotland would be the richest country in the world. By a million miles. And we didn’t even have to do any heavy lifting of the minerals back to Earth. All that Mission Scotland had to do was shuffle the paperwork, sell the mineral rights to the Chinese, tell George Osborne to get knotted and wait for the money to roll in.
No more penny pinching budgets! No more potholes and Cosla girning! No more nagging Fiscal Commission and Audit Scotland! Trams to everywhere! Money for everything! Princess Nicola waved her flickering light sabre in the air. “An’ my energy blade full on at Furst Minister’s Questions!”
And so our intrepid travellers soared to where no Scot had been before. Seven hours later they were docking at the Soyuz space station for a wee stretch and a diet Irn-Bru.
Before long, our Scotsronauts were ready for the next and most perilous part of their expedition – the long haul in their tiny capsule to Alpha Golconda.
Through the weeks and months, Caledonia One hurtled through space at 17,500 miles per hour. Out of his window John Swinney saw a strange object covered in permafrost swing into view: the infamous Planet Osbornia with the Sea of Austerity clearly visible. Princess Nicola shuddered.
Days later they found themselves caught in a terrifying shower of meteorites. Rocks and boulders hurtled towards the windscreen. This was the dreaded Galactic Storm. “Worse than I thought,” Swinney muttered as Rock storm Cosla vented its fury. “It never stops,” he told Leia. It’s a perfect storm, and from the Dawn of Time.”
Weeks later, and far beyond planets visible from Earth, the capsule passed above a dull red ball, a world of cooling ash and dying embers, as if cast beyond the known boundaries of Existence. The voice of Ground Control crackled over the radio: “You’re just above Planet Labour. Once a galactic empire, now a smoky wee ball. Probably a good time to empty the toilet buckets.”
With the push of a button, Swinney opened the sluices and the astronauts could hear the faint hiss as the capsule’s dark materials hit the surface of the planet.
“Onwards and upwards!” cried Princess Nicola and Swinney hit the accelerator and the capsule took off into the darkest regions of Existence. “Let’s hit it!”
It was many weeks before the dark mass of Alpha Golconda appeared out of the black vastness of space. The astronauts gazed in wonder as Swinney manoeuvred the pedals and steered Caledonia One towards the surface. The capsule landed perfectly. A huge cheer went up at Mission Control. But as Leia opened the door there was a crushing disappointment: no mountains of gold, no seams of platinum, no glowing copper – just miles of sand, like a wind-swept Barassie in December.
“Go round the back,” came the order over the radio. Swinney re- booted the capsule, took off and went to the Other Side.
All he could see was blackness, the galactic silence broken only by an occasional slurping sound. “What’s this?” he barked at Ground Control.
It seemed an eternity before the answer came back. “It’s oil, John. Just masses of oil.”
Leia gazed down at the slurping surface of Alpha Golconda, the biggest deposit of oil in the known universe. Billions and trillions of barrels. “It’s oor oil! Oor oil! But who’s gone to come all this way for it at $38 a barrel?”
With that, tears ran down her cheeks and her light sabre flickered before its final deathly click. Flight Commander Swinney reset the Sat Nav, fired up the engine and turned the capsule back to Earth. “Never mind, lassie. It could have been worse. It could have been Brian Souter’s chip pan fat.”
And as the engines roared into life and the capsule shuddered, John and Nicola woke up from the deep slumber that Furst Minister’s Questions had become.
Swinney turned to Leia and gave a little smile. “Never mind, Princess. It will soon be Christmas. And Fife is back in range.”