EARLSTON High School last week continued a remarkable record of success when third-year student Holly Cunningham enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to London to celebrate coming first in a unique political writing competition, writes Andrew Keddie.
And, according to Borders MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who was delighted to meet up with Holly, 14, in the capital last week, Earlston has the best record of any school in Scotland in the UK-wide Write Now competition, organised and promoted by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG) – the organisation for parliamentary and political journalists at Westminster.
Holly, who lives in Melrose, followed in the footsteps of Earlston High’s Calum Brydon-Leigh from Blainslie, who also picked up the regional (Scottish) award for the same age group – 14 to 16 – last year.
The PPG launched the competition for students as part of the celebrations for its 200th anniversary in 2003. The competition is designed to complement citizenship lessons in schools.
As part of Holly’s prize, she received a tour of the Palace of Westminster and paid a visit to 10 Downing Street, before attending a lunch reception hosted by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who presented the regional winners with their certificates.
Mr Moore said: “I want to congratulate Holly for this achievement. The level of competition is always very high, so she did incredibly well to win the award.
“I was pleased to be able to meet Holly after the Speaker’s reception, when the certificates were presented, and congratulate her in person for winning.
“I am sure she has a successful career ahead of her and I wished her all the best for her standard grades in the summer.
“Many Borderers have taken part in this competition over the years and it has been great to see people like Holly winning the award and coming on a day trip to the UK Parliament.
“I want to encourage more young people to take part in the competition and try out their political journalistic skills.”
Holly, accompanied by her mum Sandra, was flown down to London and stayed at a top hotel on the eve of her grand tour.
Her essay, restricted to 500 words, was a left-of-centre polemic based on the premise that Holly was seeking election for Melrose as a member of the fictional Peoples Party.
Holly stressed three key themes: the need for a free meals group for the elderly of the town; the formation of committees to give a sounding board for young people; and the creation of dedicated cycle routes for all ages.
“I cannot believe I won the competition,” said Holly, whose personal highlight was a meeting with Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at 10 Downing Street.
“He was a very charismatic character who was happy to answer my questions about his busy schedule and what he called the ‘honest debate’ within the coalition when I asked him if it was difficult for two separate parties to make effective laws,” she recalled.
Holly, who is is busy preparing for her S3 exams, said her day in London had been unforgettable.
“Career-wise, I’m keeping my options open, but, after seeing how it all works in the corridors of power, journalism is a distinct possibility,” she added.