Friday, 6 June 2014

Scotland's future

Last month – May 19th, to be exact – I had hoped to get along to a pro-independence public meeting at the Civic Centre in Ardrossan.

Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I didn’t make it. I wasn’t alone. Don’t get me wrong, the meeting was very well attended by the public – in fact, the main hall at the Civic was packed – it was two of the three scheduled speakers who didn’t make it to Ardrossan that night.

Due to a road traffic accident that blocked westbound lanes of the M8 motorway, Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and Isabel Lindsay of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were unable to complete their journey to Ayrshire. The third speaker, Natalie McGarry of Women for Independence, made it through and addressed the large crowd in Ardrossan.

However, with a packed hall waiting to hear about the positive case for an independent Scotland, but with two speakers no longer able to attend, organisers of the meeting had a problem. New speakers had to be found, and at very short notice.

I have no idea who it was, but one of the organisers had a stroke of genius. In a move that could have badly backfired, the organiser decided to approach two young men who had simply turned up to be members of the audience. Neither had ever addressed a public meeting before.

Gavin Lundy from Ardrossan and Ben Brotherston of Saltcoats are 17-year-old school pupils who, through their own desire to be informed about the vote they will take on the future of Scotland, found themselves drawn to the conclusion that those best-placed to take decisions for Scotland are the people of Scotland. Gavin and Ben decided to get involved in ‘Generation YES’, a grassroots youth movement advocating a ‘YES’ vote in September’s Independence Referendum. Neither of the young men is a member of a political party.

Tests carried out by psychologists over many years have found that public speaking is one of the most stressful activities we can be asked to perform. For many people, the stress and even fear is too much and they just can’t do it.

There are, of course, others who excel at public speaking. No doubt the psychologists will be able to explain why some people can speak in public and others cannot.

I know of experienced politicians who are appalling public speakers. Mostly, but not exclusively, those politicians are members of the Labour Party. If you ever tune into the BBC Parliament Channel on a Saturday morning you can see recordings of the past week’s business from the Scottish Parliament. It’s worth a look and it won’t take long before you encounter some (probably) Labour MSP reading a speech in a manner that suggests they didn’t manage to progress much beyond ‘The Cat Sat on the Mat’ while at school.

I must admit that, during my own time as an MSP, I once called across the chamber to a Labour MSP who was sending everyone to sleep with their doleful reading of a prepared speech. I suggested the MSP save everyone time (and needless boredom) by making copies of the speech, which we could all read later (or not) rather than having to listen to their drivel.

The point I’m making, is that speaking in public is not easy. Even some experienced politicians find it very difficult. So, can you imagine being 17-years-old, never having addressed a public meeting before, and being asked to make a speech to a packed hall? Just for good measure, you are given little more than five-minutes to think about what you will say.

That was the situation in which Gavin Lundy and Ben Brotherston found themselves at the Civic Centre in Ardrossan on the evening of May 19th.

Of course, they could have declined the invitation to speak, but they didn’t. Gavin and Ben are not politicians: they are not members of political parties. They support independence for Scotland not because Alex Salmond or anyone else tells them to, but because they did their own research and reached the conclusion that Scotland governing itself at home and representing itself on the world stage will provide the best future for them, their friends and their families. Gavin and Ben do not fear the prospect of Scotland retaking the status of a normal independent nation. They have confidence in themselves and their fellow Scots.

The organiser who asked Gavin Lundy and Ben Brotherston to address the public meeting last month in Ardrossan Civic Centre has done all of us a favour. The meeting was filmed and the contributions of two young men from Ardrossan and Saltcoats should be an inspiration to us all.

Please, watch the video here. Remember you are listening to 17-year-olds and share their confidence.

The future of an independent Scotland – our future – is safe in the hands of intelligent, articulate young people like Gavin Lundy and Ben Brotherston, members of ‘Generation YES’.

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