Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It's also Canada Day

Ten years ago today I was standing around in Edinburgh because I wasn't very good at maths.

Easter 1999 and I'd opted to go to a study school thing organised between local high schools for people who wanted additional study/practice questions before exams. Although I'd done quite well at Standard Grade maths Higher wasn't going so well, so I went along. Of more than twenty pupils that put their names down for this from our school, only four of us actually turned up and that was how our school began the selection process for who was going to be sent from the fifth year to represent them at the opening of the Scottish Parliament. What they wanted was a boy and a girl from each school in Scotland to carry a banner and parade through the streets.

So the day began properly at Hamilton where all the representatives from South Lanarkshire were being taken to Edinburgh. Although we'd all dressed smartly in our school uniforms we were given sweatshirts to wear for uniformity and, this being Scotland in July, matching waterproof coats too. I still have both of these somewhere. The banners that we were to to carry would in some way represent some aspect of our area and the one I ended up with apparently represented farming in shades of lilac and black.

Obviously Edinburgh, opening of the Scottish Parliament (although not the actual building because that wasn't ready until 2004): it was rather busy. For one thing lots of coaches were dropping off school kids, some of whom had set off the day before on a boat. There were helicopters flying about - some delivering guests and some getting overhead views for television coverage. As we were gathering and being given our sweatshirts, raincoats, plan for the day and banners (complete with small leather belt to help support them as they were quite heavy and there was a steady breeze), a small group of men in suits pushed past evidently on their way to somewhere important. I later found out that one of them was Gordon Brown, and I resolved that if I were ever an important politician I would remember to say "excuse me."

The important procession happened earlier in the day - when guests, freshly elected MSPs, the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles had actually attended the official opening - and our bit began at noon. We basically walked to the Free Church on the Mound where the Royal Party and the First Minister were up on a platform outside. Sean Connery was there somewhere but I didn't see him. Concord and the Red Arrows flew over, and I wished I'd brought a camera. There were cameras everywhere, and I remember thinking at that time that I'd have no trouble seeing what the whole thing looked like on the news later. Of course owing to child protection regulations and the fact that digital cameras at the time weren't exceptional I haven't actually been able to find video or photographs of the parade to post here.

Our parade took us down from the mound and along Princes Street to the gardens where an afternoon of "entertainment" had been planned. This turned out to mostly consist of local boy/girl-bands who never made it and a group of performers wearing oversized papier m√Ęcher masks called the "massive heids" who some people might remember from TFI Friday. The best bit of that afternoon was when Donald Dewar popped up to give a short speech thanking us for our involvement. I say best bit because, politics apart, he gave a genuine sense of excitement about the day in general and our part in it, even though we all knew that he'd basically just come down from lunch with the Queen, etc. At that point I was really glad that the person in charge of things was so full of hope and enthusiasm for the whole thing, and I wonder what it might have been like if Donald Dewar had been around for longer (he died suddenly in October 2000).

I wished that I'd stayed in Edinburgh to see Garbage play their concert that night, although I wasn't really dressed for it as school uniform isn't as ironic if you are still actually at school. Of course after all that we had the row over the costs of the Parliament building, an expenses scandal three years before everyone was doing it, the West Lothian question, and the ongoing debate about whether a UK Tory Government might result in another referendum on Scottish Independence. But on that day there was a great feeling that almost anything could happen and I'm proud to have been there.

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