When twin brothers Thomas and Cameron Brown entered the world, Scotland stood on the cusp of change. Minutes before they were born at Edinburgh’s Eastern General hospital, word came out that after a gap of nearly three centuries, the nation would once again have its own parliament.
A generation later, the first babies born after the historic vote in favour of devolution have come of age, ready to play their part in forging the future.
When Scotland on Sunday visited the family in hospital in 1997, the newborns were described as the ‘Yes Yes twins’ on account of their parents’ belief that the nation should be afforded greater levers of power.
Swathed in a Saltire facing one another in a cot, their father, David, stood over them looking optimistically ahead. “They will grow up in such an exciting time,” he said. “It is the start of a new millennium and in political terms a completely different ball game.”
How quickly things have changed in those 17 years, yet in other ways, stayed the same.
The Eastern General closed its doors seven years ago and the twins, sixth-year pupils at Edinburgh’s The Royal High School, celebrated their 17th birthdays on Friday, having recently finished their Highers.
They will be the latest members of the Brown clan to have a stake in a democratic decision, a fact that gives their father cause to reminisce.
“They were playing with toy cars just a few years ago and last night they were out in a real one for their first driving lessons,” said David, now aged 55. “You wonder where the time goes.”
Back on that heady morning of 12 September 1997, the boys arrived five weeks prematurely, a seismic event on what was already a memorable day for the family.
Though their mother, Maureen, was unable to go to the polls by virtue of the rigours of childbirth, David could not deny his sense of democratic duty and attended his local polling station.
When the capital’s counting officer declared at 3:05am, the 14th local authority to do so, Maureen was in labour, and the view of what form Scottish politics would take was clouded. It would not take long, however, for both the Browns and the nation to discover what lay ahead. At 5:43am, the result was confirmed at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre: Scotland was to have its own parliament with tax-varying powers.
At 5.55am, Thomas was born, with Cameron following two minutes later. As the Browns took in the enormity of the morning and prepared for a new life at their Davidson’s Mains home, the aftershocks of Scotland’s endorsement of devolution began to be played out.
Hours after the declaration, Tony Blair, the then Labour prime minister, told supporters waving Saltires that devolution would strengthen the Union rather than lead to separation.
Alex Salmond, then seven years into his stewardship of the SNP, predicted the development would lead Scotland on the path to independence in his lifetime. It was a contention that would rumble on and gather steam over the years. In four days it will be resolved.
For Thomas and Cameron, the answer is unequivocal. Where once they were known as the ‘Yes Yes twins’, they will be the ‘No No twins’ come Thursday, assured Scotland is best served by maintaining its place in a family of nations.
Cameron, who plans to study international business at university, believes independence could jeopardise free tuition fees, even for homegrown students.
Having first seen the photograph of him and his brother at the age of ten when he was old enough to “understand what it meant,” the image has inspired him in his decision.
“Looking at the picture from 1997, I feel patriotic towards Scotland, but also proud of being British,” he said.
“I see two people with a future ahead of them and I wonder why we should have that future threatened now.
“I feel very responsible for what’s going to happen to Scotland. It’s not just my dad’s future or my grandparents’ future – it’s my future, arguably more than theirs.” Thomas, who is considering studying engineering, is equally committed to a No, a belief he thinks is shared by his peers.
“I feel as though Scotland isn’t getting as much power as it potentially could, but I definitely don’t think it’s ready for full independence,” said the teenager, who intends to study at Heriot-Watt University. “The Scottish Parliament has been very effective, but in my opinion the negatives of independence far outweigh the positives.”
With their journey from the cradle to manhood bookending Scotland’s political story, the Browns’ narrative affords them a special reason to contemplate its next chapter.