Twenty-twenty visions of Scotland in the future

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Read more entries from the essay competition at the Visions of Scotland page.

MORE than 550 young Scots entered our essay competition, which was set up to mark Scotland on Sunday's 1000th edition and asked them what they'd do, if they were First Minister, to improve Scottish life by the year of our 2,000th in 2027.

The judges - myself, children's author Nicola Morgan, Barry Graham, head of external affairs at Clydesdale Bank, and Scotland on Sunday's editor, Les Snowdon - were extremely impressed.

Snowdon said: "I was astonished by the calibre and imagination of the entries. It's been a rare and useful opportunity to hear what young people in Scotland are really concerned about, and I'd like to thank all those who entered, the judges, and the sponsors, Clydesdale Bank."

What lessons can our politicians take from this snapshot of the opinions of the next generation of voters? Across all age ranges, anxieties about the natural and built environment were evident, whether it was global warming or vandalised play parks, carbon dioxide emissions or litter-strewn streets. The green agenda is clearly of key importance.

Although the stereotype insists that the young are frustrated by rules and eager for more freedom, a different view comes across.

Morgan said: "A lot of these entries show that young people actually want the security of proper boundaries."

In a whole host of areas - smoking, alcohol, obesity, Asbos and even the age of consent - the call was for stricter regulations, and for more responsibility laid at the doors of the parents.

We can wring our hands over the hoodies and neds, but these essays show the majority of young people are equally concerned about social problems. They are more aware than they are given credit for of how the activities of a minority are misrepresented as an epidemic afflicting all young people. Many entries were more explicit about racist incidents, sectarian attitudes and discrimination than we expected.

It's a mixed message for the current Government. Support for independence was most vocal in the north, became ambivalent in the central belt and the most pro-Union voices came from the south. This neatly reflects the broad pattern of adult voting, and suggests where the parties may need to target their chats in the National Conversation.

Regardless of debates on the merits of independence and the Union, there was an overwhelmingly positive and optimistic tone to the essays.

Choosing winners is the least enviable part of running such a competition. What we looked for was individuality, effort, imagination and clarity, and most of the entries had these qualities in abundance.

Snowdon added: "I was extremely gratified to see the high standards of literacy throughout the entries, and more than one of the winners could easily grace the pages of Scotland on Sunday in any given week. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that we may have found some of the future stars of Scottish journalism."

AGE: 5-8

WINNER: Edie Shand, 6, Edinburgh

IF I were First Minister I would change things for the better. I would ban smoking everywhere because it pollutes the Earth and makes people sick and can start fires. I would make an area in the school playground where children could go if they just want some quiet time or to be on their own. I would make the toilets at schools nicer because just now our school toilets are horrible. I would give artists more money so that they could buy all their pencils and paints for making beautiful work. I would make pet shops nicer. I would make more hospitals because people need more hospitals because if there was a big accident where would half of the people go? I would make sure that everything was recycled because if you waste things the Earth gets polluted.

Best of the rest

If I were First Minister I would ensure that children over 7 would learn a language from countries that are quite near Scotland. I would also make sure children watched no more than half an hour of television a day.

Rosie Young, 7, Fortrose

I would tell people to design a hydrogen powered car that does not give off gases. It would be good for global warming. Scotland needs more computers for school. Some don't work when you put them on.

Laurence Hepburn, 7, via internet

I would pay people to move in with their family and allow more houses to be free. I would also make the age for a paper round 11 years so young people can earn money instead of tidying their bedroom for 1.

Michael Luff, 8, Edinburgh

I would give every child a Nintendo Wii because you have to move a lot and swing your arms and it's great fun too. Provide free ice creams every Saturday morning for all kids under 12 - because ice cream tastes nice (even though it's sugary) and it makes kids happy.

Lindsay Barr, 8, Newton Stewart

I would make big gates in the parks because people go in at night and smoke and drink and it is unsafe for children to play. I would also make the parks have softer ground.

Jennifer Main, 8, Mount Florida Primary, Glasgow

If I were First Minister of Scotland by 2027, I would sit on my throne and I would order people to get me food and to phone my friends and I would make life better. I would have a big castle and would be allowed to go to the disco.

Bruce Strachan, 7, Gartcosh Primary School

AGE: 13-15

Winner: Julie Smith, 14, Glasgow

WHAT can change a country in twenty years?

One person? Pfft.

The government? Phah, I say.

First Minister? Dream on.

You can't change Scotland. I can't change Scotland. It's a silly notion. This is the way things are, and people will be complaining about it until the end of time. Or at least until global warming and taxes make the Earth explode, right?

Kids are like that these days. We sleepwalk through days, months, even years. We doze off while our lives hammer along their tracks, waiting for the end of the line. Everybody's dying, the universe is ending, and we're bored out of our skulls.

So why are we like that?

In school, there have always been 'good' children and 'bad' children. If you can copy a page out of the book without talking to the kid next to you, then you're 'good'. If you shout for attention, if you hit people and are never told why it's wrong, then you're 'bad'.

It's a shame, how many bright kids end up like that.

It's hard for people to change once they're labelled. It's very hard for people to realise they can overcome the judgment that was passed on them. Most people couldn't manage it at all, not even in twenty years.

I want Scotland's children to see a thousand windows of opportunity all in reach instead of aiming as low as possible and trundling towards their goals, heads hung. I want kids to grow up happier, surrounded by people who believe in them, and able to believe in themselves.

How can you change people? It won't be easy. It'll definitely be challenging. However, I think that if we could begin to treat each child as an individual instead of just a name attached to exam marks, and if we could work harder to eradicate bullying and discrimination, then Scotland would really become a much better place for everyone.

And, hey, with a happy community, what won't we be able to do? All Scots will finally be able to take any path they want. Personally, I don't know how I'd bring this change in lifestyle about on a countrywide scale. To be honest, all I was ever good at was copying pages out of books. But who knows? Twenty years is long enough to start a new generation on the right track.

Scotland can't change.

Let's change that first.

Best of the rest

I would show that dieting yourself into a size zero isn't what a 14-year-old girl should be doing. I'll even admit it - I want to have perfect cheek bones, a toned stomach and tight thighs. And I shouldn't be thinking like that.

Aimee McGoldrick, 14, by e-mail

It is not crucial for Scotland to be an independent country. It is more important that the country is populated by independent and individual thinkers.

Naomi Newall-Watson, 14, Auchendinny

Picture Scotland in its wild beauty; snow-capped mountains, rolling green hills, sparkling blue locks and magnificent cities. We are but one step away from it. But in order to take that step, we must first stop global warming.

Chris Wei, 13, by e-mail

I would make Glasgow the capital of Scotland instead of Edinburgh. Glasgow is always buzzing.

Leighanne Duffy, 15, Glasgow

I would legalise the sale of all drugs, like Switzerland, where they have the lowest addiction rates in 30 years.

Greg Lawtie-Campbell, 15, Johnstone

As First Minister I wouldn't try to save the world or end world poverty but fight the Neds.

John Devlin, aged 15

Scotland's future is up to us. The newborn babies, the kids, the teenagers.

Lauren Melville, aged 13, Beeslack High School

If I was First Minister I would paint schools to make them look friendlier.

Andrew Stewart, 13, Kirkcaldy

I want to reduce Scotland's carbon footprint by building more wind farms and solar panels.

Ailsa Comrie, 13, Glasgow

The French have the Eiffel Tower. America has the Statue of Liberty. England has the London Eye. Scotland needs a big attraction.

Iona Sinclair, 13, Rutherglen

I would be the first leader of Scotland from the Green Party and would implement environmental measures.

John Emerson, 13, Glasgow

Walking more would help the environment and our health.

Esther Malcolm, 14, Glasgow

I dream of a better Scotland. A Scotland where old people don't need to hide indoors from the filth we allow to roam at night. A Scotland bursting with young fit people and a healthy eco system. This is within our reach if we are willing to grasp it.

Grant Houston, 14, Glasgow

I would make Scotland more colourful. I would do this by getting lots of flowers and bright things to lighten it up, eg pretty lights that are on through the night.

Kerrin Henry, 13, Inverness

The nation needs to maintain its tradition of innovation and experimentation.

Cameron Kennedy, 14, by e-mail

By 2027 I would try to eradicate the differences between social classes.

Angus Taylor, 14, Edinburgh

As I see it, Scotland is not imprisoned or oppressed by England.

Peter Wade, 15, Galashiels

AGE: 9-12

WINNER: Kate Barr, 12, Newton Stewart

IF I were First Minister by 2027 I would make maths homework illegal; give children free milk every day; encourage young folk to have old folk as their friends - we have so much in common; appoint comedians as head teachers; sponsor the invention of robot bedroom tidiers; build graffiti walls - designed to change people's view of street art; ration petrol and diesel; put more exciting things in playgrounds - things that encourage kids to spend more time being active; make Cathy Cassidy the first ever Children's Reading Minister; have dinner ladies that don't mind if you are 3p short; encourage old people to have young friends - and to try out new sports and activities - you're only as old as you feel; email everyone an interesting fact about Scotland every day; teach people about difference - how lucky we are that everyone is unique and special; legalise children's rights to have television in their bedrooms; urge people to volunteer in their communities; have music piped into every classroom; and ban pie shops.

Best of the rest

By 2027, all of the children will have managed to teach the grown-ups to recycle more card, plastics, cans and glass to make amazing furniture and patterned windows.

Robbie Nicholl, 9, Glasgow

We should encourage more people to visit our beautiful country by being more welcoming and having a more efficient transport system.

Cameron Young, 9, Fortrose

Scotland would become more like Japan; a pacifist country fighting only in defence. My message: war is pointless.

Thomas Jamieson, 12, Gourock

Make ordinary bins smaller and recycling bins bigger so more people will recycle.

Ian Blackhouse, 11, Montrose

I would try to get rid of the self-pitying attitude of many Scots and bring in the positive attitude we need. We could change the world for the better - we did in the past, but we have to stop living in the past with bagpipes and tartan and make Scotland great again.

Maeve Convery, 12, Glasgow

By 2027, I would have a day every week when the nation could not disrupt the ozone layer. There would be no driving and no fires. This will prevent our extinction.

Fraser Boland, 11, by e-mail

I would make Scotland the world's first Fairtrade company. Then, whenever people from a poorer country see a Scot on the street they would say: "There goes a Scotsman from the country that freed our grandparents from slavery."

Molly Todd, 9, Fortrose

I would organise a huge fundraiser to help prevent poverty. To do this I would ask all Scotland's people to voluntarily donate money to this cause. I believe most people would support this because the majority of them have good hearts.

Katie Wight, 11, Edinburgh

I would continue the good reputation of engineering in Scotland by introducing a school subject that would involve robots.

Calum Wood, 12, Falkirk

I hope that by 2027 both Scots and English will be treated with equal respect. I ken that would be a good idea.

Max MacQueen, 12, Edinburgh

There would be no buses and cars. People would have to use scooters. All old people would live in five-star hotels, which would be good because grannies would be far too dangerous driving around on scooters.

Lucy Donald, 11, Abronhill High School

If I were the First Minister I would try not to get involved in too many arguments with other politicians.

Adam Knox, 9, Cupar

I would encourage setting up easy-to-understand careers courses for children in local churches.

Hannah Cowie, 11, Edinburgh

I would set up a fund to pay for a birthday party for children with parents on low incomes. Birthday parties bring children together.

Santine Smith, 12, Glasgow

I would also make a device that writes for you. It would be called a Brain Pen and it would have a brain built in.

Eric Wright, 11, Abronhill High School

The national anthem would be '500 Miles' by The Proclaimers.

David Cowan, 12, Edinburgh

I would help the environment and tell the people that cut down the trees to keep them up because we don't need as much paper that we use.

Dylan Anderson, 11, Dysart Primary School, Fife

Give Scotland a "Celebrate Scotland" national holiday.

Isla Donaldson, 11, Peebles

I would like politicians to support us kids and get the teenagers out of our parks and get them doing activities that stop them drinking alcohol.

Rachel Cowie, 9, Buckstone Primary, Edinburgh

Make school dinners more healthy and all children have them and they are free. I would consult the children on what they want to see on the menu, but make healthy versions of burgers, pizzas and chips. Make smoking age 40 so by the time people get to smoke they will be old enough to make a better decision. Finally, children will have a voice in Government, with child MSPs.

Forbes Malcolm, 10, Stonehaven

AGE: 16-18

Winner: Calum Gardner, 17, Williamwood High School, Glasgow

"GOOD evening: it's six o'clock and you're listening to Radio Scotland. In fifteen minutes, we go live to Inverness for a special St Andrew's Day edition of the Mairi McAllister Show, but first here's the State of the Nation Address from the First Minister."

My fellow Scots.

Twenty years ago, Scotland was, it seems now, in a downward spiral. Then only a region of the former United Kingdom, our cultural identity was stifled and our economy's potential restricted by membership of that nation. It was a grave picture painted for our future, too: a frightening percentage of the population was obese and climate change looked set to turn the world into a fireball.

Now, however, we thrive: radical health education programmes, advances in nutritional science and increased funding for the National Health Service mean that as a nation we are becoming fitter every year. With the signing of the Glasgow Accord by such countries as France, Russia, Japan and, crucially, China, Scotland committed to becoming a carbon-neutral nation, and last year what seemed like an impossible dream became a reality.

In fact, since gaining autonomy as a nation we have gone from strength to strength. In refusing to join the invasion of Syria in the 2010s, we identified ourselves as a country that would not bow to the pressure of the more powerful, and our political self-respect was restored. The gap between rich and poor in Scotland has shrunk dramatically in the last two decades, and we are now a leading country in Europe in that regard.

The school system has been reconstituted; the old Higher Still programme replaced with the Scottish Baccalaureate, a better-balanced system which today is taught in international schools worldwide and is seen as the first of a new generation of educational systems, as well as ushering in what some are calling a "Golden Age" of research in Scottish universities due in large part to the greater competency of their undergraduates.

I am proud to be a member of the government which accomplished this and honoured to be its leader, but that we have said all this time is that it is up to you. No more will we accept what we are told, but we will stand up and speak for ourselves; the responsibility is ours, and ours alone.

Thank you, and good night.

Best of the rest

I would like to abolish social pressure so young people have room to express themselves and can reveal their full potential.

Jennifer Gray, 16, Ellon

We must reverse the culture of entitlement which pervades Scotland - individual responsibility leads to a culture of merit in which hard work is rewarded.

Fergus McGhee, 17, Falkirk

I would change the exam system. The current exam system used in Scotland favours children who cope under pressure. Children should receive credit for the work and effort they have put in throughout the year. Possible changes include oral interviews throughout the year and practical work.

Sarah Watt, 16, St Columba's High School, Gourock

The first thing I would do is add 2,000 policemen and women to our streets. These 2,000 officers would patrol recognised trouble spots in town and city across Scotland.

Graham Ross, 16, Glenrothes

Read more entries from the essay competition at the Visions of Scotland page.