Scottish Parliament at 20: Children's minister Maree Todd on the birth of a better nation

Written by Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People on 29 January 2019 in Comment

Children's minister Maree Todd looks at what has improved for children and young people in the last two decades

Minister for children and young people Maree Todd - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

When the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999, I was busy working, studying and growing a new baby. A baby box would have been very welcome!

I was excited, partly because my vote had ‘counted’ for the first time – thanks to proportional representation – but also because we had elected a gloriously diverse parliament full of hope.

The opening ceremony was redolent with history, but there were plenty of signs that we would be doing things very differently.

It was a first for many of us to hear our languages used and see our culture celebrated at the heart of our democracy. Green shoots of confidence would grow stronger.

Egalitarianism rang out as our parliamentarians sang ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’ and Amy Linekar from Thurso caught the thoughts and dreams of a nation’s children and put them in to words with her poem, ‘How to create a great country’.

Scots had first voted for a devolved parliament when I was just six, in 1979. Two decades later, in 1999, we got one.

Another two decades later, in 2019, young people have never known anything else, and can’t imagine a Scotland without it.

Our first government was a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. With them at the helm, we were early pioneers in LGBTQ rights – repealing Section 28.

Twenty years on, LGBTQ inclusive education is becoming the norm.

Soon came the smoking ban. Within a year of introduction in Scotland, the rate of admission to hospital for children with asthma dropped by 18 per cent.

Generations of my family have asthma and our quality of life has vastly improved.

Where Scotland led, the rest of the UK followed. Soon, though, our confidence grew and our paths diverged.

When the SNP took office, the executive became a government and made significantly different choices.

A ‘no new nuclear power strategy’ came in, renewables would be the future. The iconic dome of Dounreay from my childhood became windmills for my children.

Scotland is now a world leader on tackling climate change and our transition to a more prosperous, low carbon economy is already well under way.

As Amy put it beautifully in her poem, the Scottish Parliament gave us the chance of a bright future that embraced green living.

With minimum unit pricing of alcohol, we became truly bold. Each time I think of it, I do a wee dance of delight.

I grew up in the Highlands and spent 20 years working in mental health. Alcohol blighted many of my family, friends and patients’ lives.

I have no doubt that in future, fewer children will grow up in households afflicted by alcoholism.

It’s beautifully targeted, but the main reason I love minimum unit pricing is because we saw a government willing to stand up to big business interests and put the health of the nation first – we don’t see that happening often worldwide!

In 2014, 16-year-olds voted in the independence referendum. Now they vote in Scottish and local elections too.

In Scotland, young people have a voice. They engage in politics and create the change they want to see.

The 2018 Year of Young People celebrated the very best of Scotland and its young people.

It was a global first, which showcased their amazing talents and provided a platform for young people to have their views heard and acted upon.

Young people co-designed events, the length and breadth of the country and shone locally, nationally and internationally.

All of these policies and more have given my children and the children of Scotland fairer, healthier lives and an optimistic future.

Young people are empowered. They have a parliament that celebrates them and puts their interests first. A parliament they can be a part of and feel pride in.

From the very beginning, and whichever party was in power, Holyrood gave us a chance to do things differently.

Although we can make some different choices, time has shown the limits.

We piloted Universal Credit in the Highlands. I saw families tipped into destitution by the built-in delay.

We live in one of the richest countries in the world and have the hungriest children in Europe because of welfare reform.

The Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ is tearing families and communities apart all over Scotland. My children watched in horror as a young Gaelic-speaking family from Dingwall faced deportation.

Young people will live with the consequences of Brexit for longer, despite many having no say in the decision – and despite Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in the EU.  

Thankfully, we have a younger generation, inspired by the groundbreaking politics around them, who are knowledgeable, confident and engaged – what a hope for the future!

The Scottish Parliament is now 20 years old, and few people in Scotland would ever contemplate political life without it.

It has been instrumental in giving Scotland a renewed political identity.

It has allowed us to look upon ourselves and debate our past, present and our future.

And it has helped us find our voice, both in the UK and overseas.

In another 20 years’ time, I have no doubt that we will be reflecting on how we completed the home rule journey with a parliament that has all the powers of an independent country. 


How to create a great country

by Amy Linekar, aged 11


So, you’re a home baking expert,

and you want a challenge,

But you don’t have the faintest idea what.

Well, here’s a foolproof recipe;

go ahead, try it!


several heroic battles,

some kilts of tartan fine

a clearance’s worth of emigration,

a thistle’s worth of spike,

and a rebellion or two.

Mix together with a spoon of fate and add:

Granny’s best mince ‘n’ tatties

corned beef hash or tattie soup,

Oor Willie’s share of mischief

add a clove of Gaelic,

and a broad Scots tongue.

Fold in gently:

an Edinburgh Festival, with all the trimmings,

a football match between the greens

and blues,

a sleekit, courin, timorous beastie by

Rabbie Burns,

and a life of design by Charles Rennie


Churn in on a production line:

a few millennia of fishing,

several thousand acres of farming,

a steel furnace full of shipbuilding,

and a fish supper with microchips.

Leave to rise and mature

and ice with a bright future of:

connections with the world,

flourishing industries that embrace

green living,

high qualifications,

low unemployment,

and a fabulous new Scottish Parliament,

taste the wonderful varied flavours and smile.

You’ve made your first SCOTLAND!



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