We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up.
In my role as Deputy First Minister, I spend a lot of time talking about all of the different work the Scottish Government is doing to try and make this ambition a reality.
We regularly talk about what we are doing to make Scotland better for our young people. But what we do not talk about enough is how our young people are making Scotland better.
We as a nation should be proud of their achievements, no more so than in this, the Year of Young People. Designed to do exactly that, the YOYP shines a spotlight on the contributions and success of some of our youngest citizens.
And there is no mistaking the valuable contribution our young people make through youth organisations like the Boys’ Brigade.
This year I have been invited to give the keynote address at their annual conference, and I have to admit to being extremely honoured, especially as a former member myself.
The conference will see thousands of members from across the United Kingdom and Ireland return to the place where it all began, Scotland, to celebrate the 135-year anniversary of the Boys’ Brigade. Founded in Glasgow in 1883, the organisation has come a long way but still remains true to its core values and aims.
In Scotland, they remain active in more than 400 communities and each week around 20,000 young people take part in one of their many groups across the country.
Involvement in organisations like this can be extremely empowering, offering developmental opportunities as well as the power to make decisions, take responsibility and make a real and lasting contribution to Scotland, both socially and economically.
And we know that youth work can have an incredibly valuable influence on the life chances of young people, which is why the Scottish Government remains committed to supporting and improving the opportunities available in a variety of organisations through our national Youth Work Strategy.
The defining mission of this government is to improve the education and life chances of our children and young people.
Every child growing up in Scotland, regardless of their background, should have an equal chance to succeed.
The poverty-related attainment gap that so disproportionately affects young people’s outcomes is a complete waste of potential and talent – it has to end.
I have also been clear that closing the attainment gap requires a collective effort. Involvement with groups like the Boys’ Brigade plays an extremely important role in supporting attainment and achievement and developing crucial skills for life, work and lifelong learning.
I know from personal experience that the memories you make and the skills you learn during your time in youth organisations like this stay with you for a lifetime.
It means discovering more about yourself and helping you to challenge what you are capable of. Equally it means discovering more about your community and the world around you, something I think we could all benefit from doing more.
There is more we can do though. It is not enough to simply learn about your community, we want young people to be engaged, to have their voices heard and help shape the world they live in. This is an extremely special annual conference for the Boys’ Brigade this year.
It is the very first one that has been entirely led by the young people involved, from planning, ideas and decision making.
Scotland is leading the way on youth engagement. Our Year of Young People 2018 is a world first and I am extremely pleased to see youth groups like this one embracing the spirit behind it wholeheartedly.
I have been lucky enough to participate in the Boys’ Brigade in a number of different ways over the years and I have a lot of happy memories. I have gone from being a member myself, to attending and handing out awards at presentations across Scotland, where I am constantly impressed by the passion and commitment demonstrated by the young people I meet.
For me, it was a particular pleasure to be able to present the Queen’s Badge – the highest award a young person can achieve in the Boys’ Brigade. It is the culmination of two years of hard work including volunteering, sporting development and expeditions amongst other things and I still remember clearly the day I received mine.
Of course, none of the incredible achievements the Boys’ Brigade, or indeed many youth work organisations around the country, would be possible without the fantastic contributions our volunteers make.
Thanks to the talents and skill of thousands of volunteers, our young people are supported and encouraged to be the best they can be. I would like to thank everyone who chooses to give up their time to support our young people through groups like this.
Figures show that 80 per cent of learning takes place outside of school. We want to make sure that, wherever children and young people are receiving the skills they need to succeed in life they are getting the best possible support when doing so.
The most effective work goes beyond the school gates and into the local community. The true breadth of education in Scotland does not start and end in the classroom.
The Year of Young People is all about inspiring our nation through our young people’s ideas, attitudes and ambitions.
A year specifically focusing on its country’s young people is a global first and something we can all be rightly proud of.
But the work our youth organisations like the Boys’ Brigade do, year in and year out, is something we can be proud of every day and every year, both now and for generations to come.
John Swinney is the Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary