Scotland 2035 could be an amazing place to live – Bill Jamieson

Stirling will become home to a centre for excellence and enterprise (Picture Robert Perry)
Stirling will become home to a centre for excellence and enterprise (Picture Robert Perry)
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Bill Jamieson travels forward in time to a peaceful, prosperous Scotland, then returns back to today’s angry factionalism.

On the bedside table, my battered Alexa buzzed in the darkness. Exhausted, I could barely read the date: was it not November 21, 2035?

Time to rise as a pearly morning light suffused the room. Brightness lay beyond the bedroom window. I pulled back the curtain and looked down as sunlight transformed Loch Earn into a sea of glittering diamonds. Here I was the richest man on Earth.

Alexa clicked on to Radio Scotland. The soft Orkney lilt of First Minister Ailsa Cunninghame was setting out an ambitious new water pipeline project set to bring more than £100 million of revenue over the next ten years. Then came a progress report on one of the most ambitious forestry schemes in Europe – and an update on food and farm exports: the highest on record.

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Scotland was on a roll. Everything was the opposite of conventional prediction – and for the better. Transformational social change had swept the country. Scotland was enjoying a natural resource boom to combat climate change – forestry, farming, water and food products. Huge behavioural change was evident everywhere – and the country an investment, tourism and visitor magnet.

None of this could have been imagined in the tumult and trauma of the early 2020s. The SNP had swept all before it, the Conservatives wiped out and Labour little more than a rusting industrial memory. Rising over the Glasgow skyline is the headquarters of the new Scottish Infrastructure Commission. In Stirling, the foundations were laid for the new Scottish Centre for Excellence and Enterprise, with offices, conference halls, exhibition centres and health and wellbeing stadia.

A step back from full independence

We prepared to join the EU and, at the borders, large welcoming signs and saltires gave the first inkling of a country redefined and reborn: a complex of border posts and the presence of smartly uniformed guards and customs officers turned the crossing into an event.

An unstoppable in-tide of change swept all before it as new institutions were born and old ones re-imagined and energised. The surging waves of ambition seemed relentless. But then, imperceptibly at first, the tide paused and began a slow and gradual retreat.

The new and experimental gave ground to what worked and was practical. It was as if we discovered that while we wished to be independent, we stopped short from the full version: we aspired to be different and distinctive, but a metre short of separate. Over time we came to prefer ease of business and movement. In due course, the border checks and paperwork became little more than a formality, the form-filling and paperwork perfunctory. For the private motorist and Eddie Stobart juggernaut alike, the traffic flowed with the salute of the guards little more than the tapping of a finger on cap badge.

Economically, the big push was now massive water pipeline development. We had no lack of it, but areas of middle and southern England battled against increasing drought. Water was now a cash-generating export par excellence.

The Behaviourist Movement

Economic development overall came to be shaped by the dynamics of climate change. Forestry planting made a dramatic step forward. In the lowlands, arable farming expanded as dietary habits changed. Food and farming development became turbo-charged in the face of changes in lifestyle choices. A threatened breakdown in health provision obliged us to adapt.

Running parallel to this and spreading out from university campuses was a remarkable behaviour change: a steady falling out of fashion of alcohol consumption and, indeed, mood-altering substances such as cannabis and cocaine. This was in recognition of the part they played, not only in overloading health services but also in violent, abusive and anti-social behaviour. It was not simply that it was seen to be cool to be straight: here was the iron law of rational choice.

Here at home, the Behaviourist Movement, as it came to be known, brought a surge in voluntary collective action in neighbourhoods to clean up, smarten and improve. It seemed a hopeless aspiration as retail degeneration in town centres gathered force. But one bold fiscal change brought an immediate turnaround: business rates were slashed and lifted altogether for tens of thousands of small firms. Many start-ups failed. But many more brought a surge of enterprise, creativity and purpose.

Scotland was buzzing. But so, too, was my chipped and tarnished Alexa on the bedside table. I looked again, to see the time: November 20 2019. An election broadcast on the radio filled the room with angry voices of factionalism, cynicism, argument and despair. How quickly the past can become a foreign country. But if that is true, it can surely apply also to a future – one of unforeseeable possibility.