The competition was organised by the Scottish Review
(SR) and sponsored by the Young Programme (YP) charity. It was open to pupils in Scottish schools who were between the ages of 15 and 18 on 15 December 2022.
It was a condition of entry that 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 experience; an account of a personal experience of some kind; a piece about a sports event; or a profile of, or an interview with, an individual. The articles were required to be between 900 and 1,300 words in length. No entries outside of these margins were considered.
A short-list of 11 papers was sent out to a panel of 15 judges, with no identification of author, age or school included. Members of the panel were asked to vote for their winner and two runners-up, and also append comments on their selection.
The winner will receive a cheque for £600 and each of the two runners-up a cheque for £300. All three articles are published in this special edition of SR. Eight highly commended and 10 commended writers will receive a certificate of recognition and book token. Our congratulations to all 21 long-listed pupils for their outstanding work and to the many other promising young writers who entered the competition. Special congratulations to Douglas Academy
, Earlston High School
and High School of Dundee
– the schools with more than one pupil on today's roll of honour. All pupils who took part in the competition, whether awarded or not, should be extremely proud of taking up this challenge. Your hard work and dedication is admirable.
The panel of adjudicators
, journalist and broadcaster; Jean Barr
, emeritus professor of adult and continuing education, University of Glasgow; Tom Chidwick,
contemporary historian; Magnus Linklater
, journalist and former newspaper editor; Fiona MacDonald
, managing director and trustee, YP; Alan McIntyre
, patron, Institute of Contemporary Scotland and trustee, YP; Islay McLeod
, editor, Scottish Review
and trustee, YP; Sally Magnusson
, broadcaster and writer; Barbara Millar
, YP adjudicator and trustee; Josh Moir
, artist and YP young leader; Bill Paterson
, actor in theatre, television, film and radio; George Robertson
(Lord Robertson of Port Ellen), politician and former secretary-general, NATO; James Robertson
, writer and poet; Mairi Clare Rodgers
, communications professional and trustee, YP; Anthony Seaton
, emeritus professor of environmental and occupational medicine, University of Aberdeen
There was much praise for the short-listed articles.
: 'As always, the standard is so high. Please record my congratulations on the quality of all the pieces and best wishes to them all.'
'The shortlisted stories were all very well written, and care had evidently been taken by the authors to edit and proof-read them. Several of them engaged me as a reader with subjects that I might not usually have been drawn to: that is because of the quality of the writing': James Robertson
: 'Another crop of very thoughtful essays.'
Every one, without exception, was a pleasure to read. To choose between them was a joyful torment! The range of knowledge, interest, vocabulary and imagination on show is a credit to all involved. The readiness to tackle complicated, sensitive, unpopular or highly personal issues is commendable. Warm congratulations to all 11 finalists': Keith Aitken
: 'A fine crop of original writing.'
'The quality was very high and the range of topics was impressive': Alan McIntyre
: 'As ever I much enjoyed reading all of these.'
: 'My goodness, this took me back 70 years to my time as a teenager. Eleven well-written essays exploring personal emotions, existential anxieties and thoughts about the problems of the world. How on Earth to choose a winner!'
'What a remarkable collection of disparate, but often highly sophisticated entries. For essay writers of school age this is an interesting and thought-provoking selection': Magnus Linklater
: 'Another fine set of winning papers on a wide range of subjects, tackled with gusto.'
'I was really impressed with the standard of the essays and thought that there was an impressive breadth of topics!': Josh Moir
: 'The standard of entries this year was particularly outstanding, with some original and current topics explored.'
The winner: May Bruce
Tynecastle High School
Theme: A harrowing account of the author's experience with the justice system
: 'A sensitively written description of what it was like for a teenager to have to face giving evidence in court. Honest, brave, reflective. This mature piece of writing really got to the heart of the ordeal and made us feel that we were there alongside, sitting and waiting. This was a most thoughtful piece of work.'
: 'Not only is this a gripping account, it cleverly avoids any description of the attack itself, while leaving us in no doubt that something terrible has happened. The writing is terse, compact and free-flowing, while at the same time conveying the tensions that build up to the trial itself. The atmosphere of the court is well conveyed, and the small personal touch, where the swab is being taken, is a touching moment.'
: 'Very personal but balanced. A true life experience described with feeling and eloquence.'
: 'The account is clear, the writing concise, and the reader feels the tension until the denouement. It wisely avoids detailing the offence but rather describes the writer's feelings as they encounter the frightening environment of the witnesses' waiting room and the tension invited by the prospect of aggressive cross examination. The account finishes with a positive message, contrary to what you might have expected.'
: 'A traumatic experience and the court appearance that followed are described without sensation or sentimentality but with a tremendous grasp of the telling detail that makes it all live for the reader.'
: 'The impressive thing about this paper is the writer's ability to contextualise their own experience in time, place and society.'
: 'This is very accomplished with a real sense of tension. I found myself right there in that tense waiting room and the short, sharp He's pled guilty
line was a palpable relief for the writer and the reader.'
: 'Well structured, descriptive and insightful. The paper is populated by a cast of walk-on parts which somehow combine, with a lightness of touch, to provide a sense of context and backdrop to the central character: the grandma who gave them a book to read while they waited, the dad at their side who reminded them that they were not on trial, the Victim Support volunteer who can't be heard, the kindly woman who took the cheek swab.'
: 'An outstandingly vivid and harrowing piece, both mature and insightful. The complexity, and occasional contradictions, inherent in the emotions of the narrator are handled with restraint and conviction.'
: 'I thought this was compelling with a good mix of emotion and objectivity concerning something that was personally traumatic without ever having to go into detail. It was a mature piece of writing.'
: 'A powerfully personal piece of writing which incorporates strong imagery and descriptive language to tell an inspiring story that unfolds over the length of the piece. The writer says much without saying it directly, using a restrained storytelling to keep the reader engaged and the narrative moving forward.'
: 'A powerful and moving account of the aftermath of being subjected to a heinous crime. Beautifully written and clearly the work of someone older and wiser than their years.'
: 'I was gripped from the moment I started reading this paper. A difficult subject, handled brilliantly.'
Markus de Blieck
Theme: A lively essay on the benefits of adding insects into our diets
: 'An entertainingly argued polemic on the joys and economic benefits of eating insects. It could go straight into a newspaper. By the end of it this prejudiced bug-hater was almost ready to tuck into a locust. Almost!'
: 'Informative, well argued, fluently written – and convincing.'
: 'I liked the humour of this one, and the way it's deployed to support rather than distract from a lucid argument. Tongue-in-cheek is a hard trick for any writer to pull off, and here it is done very well. At the same time, there are some forceful and unexpected points made along the way. Thanks too for teaching me a new word: entomophagy
: 'A funny and lighthearted piece of writing with a serious, insect shaped proposition at its centre. While I'm not sure I share the writer's enthusiasm for the topic, the writing itself was convincing, engaging and very enjoyable to read.'
Mairi Clare Rodgers
: 'A humorous paper about a serious issue. Written in a lighthearted way but not light on substance. Lots of alliteration means this piece flows beautifully. Entertaining to read and thought-provoking, the writer makes an (almost!) convincing case.'
: The author makes a very convincing case that entomophagy could be the UK's next big business for eco- and health-conscious consumers.'
: 'A delightfully light-footed essay – witty, thought-provoking and full of surprises, as well as suggestive slogans. Moving from the personal and particular to the political and universal, their proposal for a radical change of diet is truly revolutionary in its implications for the future of the planet. A carefully crafted, persuasive essay.'
: 'Not sure it convinced me that I should start eating bugs, but this was a lively, funny and thought-provoking paper.'
: 'Entertaining, with touches of humour. I mite
take up their advice!'
High School of Dundee
Theme: An exploration of the significance of stone in our lives
: 'I found this paper on the variety of stone walls across our landscape and what they represent in terms of human history, geology and ecology really fascinating and informative, and laced with a nice touch of humour too. The final line, Stone is our touchstone to the elemental and the eternal
, is a powerful ending.'
: 'An informative piece of writing, which is as much social history as a lyrical hymn to stone. Beautifully written and a joy to read.'
: 'I love everything about this paper – the writing, lyrical and evocative; the research, thorough and insightful, and the rich and varied revelations the author unveils of the life of a stone wall. It is full of intriguing detail and astounding facts.'
: 'An enjoyable and informative paper which reads similar to its subject matter: like a pleasant and relaxed walk alongside a winding wall. The writer incorporated an informed probing of the topic with good, topical and tongue in cheek humour.'
: 'What an original subject. I would never have thought of the stone walls we are so familiar with as having their own tiny ecosystems, or being rodent-friendly superhighways
. An eye opener.'
: 'Turned what could have been a very dry subject into a fascinating science piece through the quality of the writing. The image of the fox, the evocation of history and the general quality of the writing were all excellent.'
Mairi Clare Rodgers
: 'A fascinating wander through the stone walls that criss-cross our country, which you barely notice at the best of times. This paper shares specialist knowledge in passionate, fun and extremely engaging language. Who couldn't enjoy words like smoots
or lunkie holes
: 'An erudite and surprisingly engaging treatment of what seemed at first an unpromising topic. I shared the writer's evident relish for the technical vocabulary.'
: 'Briliantly crafted and atmospheric. I'll never look at a stone wall in the same way again.'
In alphabetical order
Neil Bhat Folio
High School of Dundee
An evocative and playful examination of the education system
St Joseph's College, Dumfries
A probing essay on representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in media
The Mary Erskine School
An uncompromising paper on the UK's treatment of non-white refugees
An insightful essay exploring the dreaded experience of burnout
An original paper on the importance of costume
A beautifully structured coming of age
An invigorating investigation into the world of fast fashion
Tain Royal Academy
A lilluminating insight into the world of polyamorous relationships
In alphabetical order
Calderglen High School
Heartfelt personal testimony of an asylum seeker's long journey to the UK
A compelling essay on the dangerous romanticisation of eating disorders
A passionate essay on the barbaric act of fox hunting
The Waid Academy
A reflective and reassuring letter to one's younger self
Earlston High School
A quirky paper on the many merits of tea – in all its varieties
Johnstone High School
A bold and entertaining plunge into the politics of Donald Trump
Monifieth High School
An energetic paper on tolerance and its place in today's society
A nostalgic essay on the impact Queen Elizabeth II had on the author
Dalbeattie High School
A critical assessment of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in football
Earlston High School
An expressive paper on relationships and falling in love
for the winning paper by May Bruce
for the joint runner-up paper by Markus de Blieck
for the joint runner-up paper by Alexander Milnes