Scotland needs more young speechwriters - Laura Westring

You have to order the Irn-Bru. You can’t come all the way to Scotland and not try Irn-Bru”. A smile spread across my face as Eric Schnure, former speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, decided to humour me. “It tastes like bubblegum”, said Eric, in the way of a very polite person, expert in transatlantic diplomacy, who’d rather have had sparkling water.

Laura Westring is a former EU speechwriter, an inaugural Alfred Landecker Democracy fellow and senior strategic communication and culture manager at Amiqus
Laura Westring is a former EU speechwriter, an inaugural Alfred Landecker Democracy fellow and senior strategic communication and culture manager at Amiqus

It was, I thought, a sweet end to my short but formative service as a young speechwriter at the European Commission and probably the last time I’d be able to afford the entry fee to an executive communication conference as a civilian.

By then I had met Eric a few times, having attended his seminars in Brussels, Cambridge and Washington as a bit of an oddity. Always among the youngest in the audience and one of few women to be writing speeches full time; I held Eric’s approach - of writing to satisfy the audience’s needs for humour and emotional connection - in high esteem. His contribution to ‘The Political Speechwriter's Companion’ had lain by my bedside for two years as I hoped to convince colleagues that the only danger in writing about hipsters or Hedy Lamarr was that a speech might actually be interesting.

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On that October evening in 2016, just a few months after the EU membership referendum, my time as an accidental Eurocrat had come to an end. “It was nice knowing you Eric,” I said as we pulled on our coats. Having witnessed some of the most tumultuous years in the EU’s history: from Greek citizens unable to afford medicine during the Eurozone crisis; to the death of Alan Kurdi; to the Brussels bombings, I was burned out and at a loss for words.

A month later, I found inspiration in Amiqus, a small tech startup at the time, whose founder was a stalwart of Scotland’s business for good movement. It was in our light-filled office, overlooking the rooftops of Leith, that words returned. It became clear to me that a background in speech writing was powerful, transferable and valuable to just about any mission-led organisation, yet so few people get the chance to do it.

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So few, in fact, that at a recent breakfast of speechwriters on the Royal Mile, at which our total was three, the highest ranking among us quipped that it was probably the largest gathering of our profession in Scotland for years.

One reason for this is that the small number of people who do land a full time speech writing gig rarely train to become speechwriters. Instead someone gets asked to write a speech; their boss realises they’ve got the talent for it and overnight that someone becomes a speechwriter. This makes it harder for young people, women and people of minority background to break through because, statistically if nothing else, they are less likely to be in roles close to political or corporate leadership.

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The question for Scotland is then, in this the first year of our most diverse parliament to date, who do we want to write the stirring evocations of our future? It’s time to consider investing in the next generation and the future tradition of speech writing in Scotland.

Laura Westring is a former EU speechwriter, an inaugural Alfred Landecker Democracy fellow and senior strategic communication and culture manager at Amiqus

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