The competition was organised by the Institute of Contemporary Scotland (ICS) in association with the Young Programme charity. It was open to pupils in Scottish schools who were between the ages of 15 and 18 on 15 December 2017.
It was a condition of entry that the work should be that of the author alone, unedited by a teacher (or anyone else), and that it should be a work of non-fiction. Pupils were asked to imagine that they were writing a feature or column for an intelligent magazine or serious newspaper. Examples given in the briefing were: a commentary about something in the news; thoughts about a cultural event; or a personal experience of some kind. The articles were required to be in the approximate range 900 to 1,100 words.
There was a large entry representative of schools in most parts of Scotland. It was striking that 75% of the work submitted was by girls.
The original small panel failed to reach agreement. The four short-listed pieces were then sent to a considerably larger panel of 29 from the wider ICS community, with Kenneth Roy, editor of the Scottish Review, as non-voting chair. Members of the panel were asked to vote and append comments on their choice (many adding notes on the other articles). The winning article was comfortably ahead in the voting, but as only three votes separated the others it was decided that all three should be joint runners-up.
The winner will receive a cheque for £500 and each of the three runners-up a cheque for £250. All four articles are published in this special edition of SR. Eight highly commended writers will have their work published in a future edition of the Scottish Review and will receive a certificate of recognition. Eight commended writers will receive a certificate of recognition. Our congratulations to all 20 long-listed pupils for their outstanding work and to the many other promising young writers who entered the competition. Special congratulations to James Gillespie's High School in Edinburgh – the only school with more than one pupil on today's roll of honour.
The panel of adjudicators
, writer and activist; Carol Craig
, writer and founder, Centre for Confidence and Well-being; Katie Crerar
, runner-up Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2017; Ron Ferguson
, journalist and biographer; Howie Firth
, director, Orkney International Science Festival; Jock Gallagher
, broadcaster and co-founder, Centre for Freedom of the Media; Rose Galt
, former president, Educational Institute of Scotland; Andrew Hook
, emeritus professor of English literature, University of Glasgow; Ian Jack
, Guardian columnist and former editor, Independent on Sunday; Bill Jamieson
, Scotsman columnist; Amy Jardine
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2014; Magnus Linklater
, Times columnist and former editor, The Scotsman; John Lloyd
, contributing editor, Financial Times; David McAlpine Cunningham
, academic administrator and writer; Rebecca MacDonald
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2017; Alan McIntyre
, patron, Institute of Contemporary Scotland; Alasdair McKillop
, writer; Sally Magnusson
, broadcaster and author; Catriona Mallows
, Scotland Young Thinker of the Year 2016; Barbara Millar
, journalist; Donald S Murray
, poet and author; Bill Paterson
, actor; Eileen Reid
, writer; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; Allan Shiach
, film producer; Angus Skinner
, former chief social work adviser for Scotland; Morelle Smith
, poet and author; Gillean Somerville-Arjat
, critic and writer; Eilidh Todd
, award-winner, Young Scotland Programme 2016.
There was high – and clearly heartfelt – praise for the short-listed articles. One of Scotland's best-known journalists, Bill Jamieson
, wrote: 'I have had to edit literally thousands of articles submitted for publication over a lifetime. Each one of these four articles would serve as an exemplar of clear and cogent writing. They are insightful, well-argued and thoughtful, and I would have authorised publication without hesitation. Could you kindly forward on my behalf my warmest praise to each of the four authors, together with the sternest advice that they continue to write and never give up. Never, never, never give up. My warmest appreciation, too, for the teachers who have helped to nurture and shape this talent. There is much about which to despair in education today. These top-quality essays are a blazing antidote. They are a credit to their teachers and to their schools.'
'All these articles offer something a little different and they're all extremely well written,' said Sally Magnusson
. 'They are all strong contenders, highly accomplished and articulate,' wrote Gillean Somerville-Arjat
. 'I particularly liked the way they had all mastered a sense of writing an opening paragraph that hooks you in to their overall argument, before structuring their case and reaching a satisfying conclusion.' George Robertson
commented: 'They are a vivid advert for today's generation of young people. It was a pleasure to read them.' 'Wow!', wrote Angus Skinner
. 'What great articles. Superb, really.' Many of the judges admitted to difficulty in reaching a decision. As Howie Firth
put it: 'What a challenge! I can see why the original panel was deadlocked. All four of them can write, and it's difficult to separate them on the basis of the writing alone.' Morelle Smith's
statement that she could have made a case for all four as the winner was echoed by others.
The Short List
The winner: Shannon Henderson
St Maurice’s High School, Cumbernauld
Theme: Teenage motherhood
: 'I have no doubts about my choice. This piece is very powerful. It is also human and perceptive. It is really well-written and carefully constructed to make a restrained, passionate but effective political case.'
: 'I found this a very gripping article. Right from the start I felt drawn in to the story. It is written with great clarity and occasional wit. The author also challenges conventional wisdom – that teenage mothers are a huge problem. The writer displays a range of skills. She both tells the story well and makes a convincing intellectual argument at the end.'
: 'As a piece of writing I found it totally compelling. There was no self-pity and I feel the need to know what happens next. That, for me, is the essence of good writing.'
David McAlpine Cunningham
: 'Dignified, nuanced and mature.'
: 'I was very impressed by the way the writer mixed the personal and political. Great sense of immediacy... unambiguous, uncluttered and punchy.'
: 'Such an unusual and frank response to an age-old issue.'
: 'It's a rare testament. But this isn't to see it as deserving the prize only because it's touching. Writing, even about something as intimate as that, is always a matter of working out how to make it readable and powerful. That she does very well indeed: with a fine description of the badmouthing she got, but not a self-pitying one. With the mixture of honesty and detachment she showed, she will most likely be a writer in some form in later life.'
: 'A deeply moving narrative. She demonstrates astonishing levels of maturity and determination as well as a shrewd ability to assess rather than judge those purportedly there to help her.'
: 'Powerfully put from first-hand experience.'
: 'The most compelling of all, because the writer was relating an intimate, distressing, joyous, socially awkward and life-changing experience...It was a rare and all too brief glimpse into a world that most of us know nothing about.'
: 'A moving and insightful account. Given her predicament and the formidable challenges she faced, it was a remarkably cool and dispassionate account – and all the more moving for being so.'
: 'Balances well such a profound and life-changing experience with a lightness of touch in the writing. An ultimately optimistic essay.'
: 'Frank and refreshing. We fill our lives these days with comments about what others are doing. It's good to receive this report from the front line.'
: 'Lively, honest, brave and hopeful.'
Mallaig High School
Theme: P T Barnum and our approaches to history
: 'An outstanding accomplishment – elegantly and wittily written, with pace and grace, and a real pleasure to read. But beneath the smart and sassy style was a discussion of real maturity on how we treat history and its monuments – a resonantly topical subject.'
: 'Engaging and thought-provoking...a sassy piece.'
: 'Grips the reader in the first paragraph and barnstorms its way to a devastating critique of a man, a culture and a nation. Uses irony and humour to great effect.'
: 'This article impressed me with the energy, range and
readability of its argument.'
: 'The language is engaging and the metaphors punchy and
: 'A vivid, engaging and inventive piece of writing. I learned new things about P T Barnum, and the story itself was told with humour, style and seriousness.'
St Leonard’s School, St Andrews
Theme: The trolling of the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg
Donald S Murray
: 'A remarkable piece of writing at any age. Stylish and lucid throughout. Builds well to its conclusion.'
: 'Clearly written, didn't stray off point, well-argued and topical.'
: 'Beautifully written. The analysis of the topic is carefully considered, well-measured and strikingly mature.'
: 'Admirable clarity of thought and presentation. It made good use of a single case to illustrate trends with wider implications, while raising important questions about the relationship between supposedly settled ideas, such as freedom of speech, and new forms of communication.'
: 'Highly relevant, tightly focussed and well-structured.'
: 'A very polished piece of crisp, authoritative writing, with an extremely powerful introduction and a succinct punchy pay-off. An exceptionally mature piece of journalism.'
: 'Derives its power from good structuring and clear and concise arguments, and manages to avoid overwrought and overwritten prose. It recognises that there is no easy answer to the problem of anonymous trolling, but the piece does an excellent job of unpacking the issues and zeroing in on some of the more concerning aspects of the current environment for journalists of all stripes.'
High School of Dundee
Theme: British colonialism
: 'Whether you embraced the entire argument being made or dissented from the brook-no-opposition style, the writing was coherent
and well-made. It deployed its arguments with considerable fluency and style.'
: 'Uses excellent examples (including personal experience) to highlight the lack of knowledge and misconceptions about colonialism. Makes a convincing and well-structured argument.'
: 'An in-depth understanding of the important issues explored, and a convincing, contemporary argument.'
: 'A concise and well-argued piece with good use of rhetorical questions.'
: 'A well-structured piece, well-argued and tightly expressed. It raises important questions about the way in which history should be taught in schools. It made me, as a former history teacher, question the ways in which I tried to teach difficult issues such as colonialism and its legacy.'
: 'Brilliant piece of writing with lucid arguments supported by relevant and often devastating facts.'
In alphabetical order
Peebles High School
Spirited debunking of the idea that satire changes anything
Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy
Gentle reflections on what it means to be happy
St Margaret's School for Girls, Aberdeen
Stylish defence of boredom as an aid to living
Carrick Academy, Maybole
Perceptive critique of a Beatles album's enduring appeal
Quirky exploration of the joys of obscure knowledge
Woodmill High School, Dunfermline
Forensic deconstruction of the UK's anti-terrorist strategy
Portobello High School, Edinburgh
Lovely comic observation of a fast-food horror
James Gillespie's High School, Edinburgh
Tender evocation of how books shaped a young girl's life
In alphabetical order
Story of personal loss told in an unusual way
Introspective essay of painful emotional honesty
Renfrew High School
Passionate plea for radical action to save the planet
Well-argued advocacy of music education in schools
Eastwood High School, Newton Mearns
Insight into autism, engaging as well as enlightening
James Gillespie's High School, Edinburgh
Traumatic yet inspiring account of a sibling relationship
Dunfermline High School
Furious take on the Hell that is other cinema-goers
Wallace High School, Stirling
Sharp, witty indictment of the lies parents tell
for the winner: Shannon Henderson
for runner-up: Wallace Dempster
for runner-up: Eleanor Greenwood
for runner-up: Anoushay Okhai