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Scottish Parliament Speech: Bluelight (May 2010)

See this speech in context on They Work For You

I, too, congratulate Jim Tolson on publicising the bluelight initiative. The debate has made me reflect on my own experiences of teaching kids as a further education lecturer way back in the 1960s. I used to be confronted with Post Office messenger boys, who ran around on little red motorbikes, delivering telegrams, and who were said to be the most intractable pupils in Edinburgh.

In fact, I found that seemingly tough lot to be brilliant, because the work was based around the mechanical thing they worked with - in other words, their bikes. They also had to interact in complex social situations. After all, in Scottish working-class households, telegrams meant no good, and these 16 and 17-year-olds had to be prepared to deal with moving situations involving illness and death and to empathise with people who could become distracted as such news approached.

Youngsters and teenagers have the capability to overcome the situations in which they are placed, and bluelight is the sort of initiative that can stimulate in teenagers the liveliness and interest in the world that are shown, as Jim Tolson and I will recall, by primary school kids. Those tend to lapse in the early teen years, when young people become driven much more by the pressure of seeing their lives expand and not being able to cope with that, partly because of their time of life and partly because of peer-group pressure. The bluelight movement's emphasis on ensuring that teenagers see authority as something that not only disciplines but provides further opportunities is surely important. It casts back to the 1880s and the curious movement that led to the explorer Henry Drummond helping to set up the Boys Brigade, the two propellant areas behind which were the gospel according to Moody and Sankey, and association football. In the BB, if one was not a good football organiser, one was sunk.

That type of initiative still makes an impact - for instance, the Scout Association is very strong in Kirkcaldy - and is founded on people simply not giving way to what might be described as a combination of girning and trying to find quick and easy ways out of a situation. All too often, such quick and easy ways involve the product of one of Fife's major industries - the alcopops that are churned out of the Diageo works near Leven - but that kind of reaction can be overcome not only by discipline but by the opportunity for real enjoyment that bluelight provides.

I would certainly like to see supermarkets and alcohol producers being made to balance their profit making with social responsibility and ensuring that people have the chance truly to mature.

Another development that I would like is to get people who are going into higher education to do a year's part-time work with organisations that work with young people. That would give them leadership and organisational skills and the ability to generate interest among kids. Kids have many chances and the potential to use much technology; they just require access to people who have a notion of being teachers and mentors. The bluelight initiative is an important first step in that direction. I hope that all means of developing it can be pursued.

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