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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 05 September 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Topical Question Time, Programme for Government 2017-18, Programme for Government 2017-18, Decision Time, Boys Brigade Juniors 100th Anniversary


Boys Brigade Juniors 100th Anniversary

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07188, in the name of Alexander Stewart, on Boys Brigade juniors 100th anniversary.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the news that, in Autumn 2017, the Boys’ Brigade in Scotland is marking 100 years of working with the “Juniors” age group, which was established in September 1917 when the Brigade Council, the Brigade’s governing body, established the Boy Reserves to cater for boys aged from nine to 12; notes that members of the Juniors have been marking the milestone throughout 2017, including taking part in the Juniors 100 Challenge where young people are being encouraged to complete 100 challenges including activities such as taking part in a world record attempt, learning basic first aid skills, raising £100 for a local charity and trying out a new sport; further notes that members have been getting active, being creative, learning new skills, exploring and being adventurous while helping others in their local communities; understands that the celebrations have also involved looking back at the Juniors’ heritage, sharing stories of the past and looking forward to the next 100 years; believes that more than 5,000 eight to 11-year olds are taking part in a fun and active programme across more than 400 groups throughout Scotland; acknowledges that membership of The Boys’ Brigade offers young people so much, the chance to excel in new skills or talents, to explore, discover new things and provide opportunities and, above all, to have fun; commends The Boys’ Brigade in its calling for a team-based approach to encouraging participation in sports and activities that are critical for children and young people’s health, tackling childhood obesity and helping bridge the educational attainment gap, and considers that, in most cases, expenditure is low, with an average of £120 spent on sports equipment annually as a result of the majority of members benefitting from church-based premises and shared use of equipment.


I am delighted and grateful for the opportunity to open this members’ business debate. This autumn, the Boys Brigade in Scotland is celebrating 100 years of the Boys Brigade junior section. From its formation in Glasgow on 4 October 1883 by Sir William Alexander Smith, and up until 1917, the Boys Brigade catered only for boys aged over 12.

However, in September 1917, the Brigade Council set up the Boy Reserves to cater for boys aged between eight and 11. The mission of the Boy Reserves was:

“The advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among young Boys and the training of ... suitable Recruits for The Boys’ ‘Brigade’.”

In the early days of the Boy Reserves, there was a notable increase in attendance at Sunday schools in the churches that had adopted the section, and the number of companies operated by the reserves grew. In 1918 there were almost 1,500 members of the reserves across the United Kingdom, in 59 sections that were formed in the first session of 1917-18. Twenty-five of those original sections are still running today.

In 1926, the Boy Reserves of the Boys Brigade merged with the Boys Life Brigade to become the Life Boys. After that amalgamation, membership increased to more than 30,000 in the early 1930s and more than 70,000 in the 1950s. In 1966 the Life Boys became a full part of the Boys Brigade, as the junior section. That name was intended to be temporary, lasting only until such time as a better name could be thought of, but it still holds today.

Members of the juniors have been marking the milestone throughout 2017, including by taking part in the juniors 100 challenge, in which young people are encouraged to complete 100 challenges in activities such as taking part in a world record attempt, learning first aid skills, raising £100 for a local charity and trying a new sport. Many juniors have been actively engaging in such activities over the past few months.

Members have had the opportunity to be creative, learn new skills, explore and be adventurous, while striving to support their local communities. On-going celebrations have also involved looking back at the heritage of the juniors, sharing stories of the current celebrations and looking forward to the next 100 years.

Primarily the Boys Brigade junior section provides a fun and safe learning environment for children between the ages of eight and 11. Its programme consists of five areas—body, mind, spirit, community and creativity—and activities ensure that the juniors have the opportunity to learn and grow.

The programme enables the youngsters to experience teamwork and responsibility, which gives them the opportunity to grow and develop in their roles. Juniors also have the opportunity to go to camps and on residential trips. For some, it is the first time that they have been away from home for an evening.

Throughout their time in the junior section, youngsters are able to gain badges in recognition of their participation in simple activities. It is a real form of motivation that gives a visual and tangible record of their achievements. Many of them wear their badges with real pride.

Membership of the Boys Brigade offers young people so much more. It gives them a chance to excel at new skills and talents, to explore and to deliver. It provides new opportunities for them to have fun.

As my motion states, the Boys Brigade is to be commended and congratulated for trying to gel a team-based approach to participation in sports activities, which are crucial for children and young people’s physical and mental health, tackling childhood obesity and bridging the attainment gap.

The Boys Brigade is a Christian youth organisation that is committed to providing a fun and safe learning environment. As a result, the majority of members benefit from church-based premises and shared use of equipment. That is why in many cases expenditure is kept low.

As a result of its positive message, the Boys Brigade juniors section now has 14,900 members, 5,010 of whom are in Scotland. As a past battalion president of Perth and Kinross District Boys Brigade and the current battalion president of Stirling and District Boys Brigade, I am proud to have witnessed many youngsters have the opportunity to grow and to become proud and confident. As they excel, they become very capable young adults.

An example is a young member of the Boys Brigade company in the Stirling area, whose name is James. He joined the local group several years ago. Although James is now in his late teens, his mother has reflected to the directors of the BB on how the time in the junior section has helped to support her son. These are her own words with permission from the Boys Brigade. She speaks about how the junior section

“Provided a well-balanced programme of activities including trying different sports & drill and of course an introduction to camp and a first stay away from home. In three years, James did not miss a single BB meeting—there can be no better testament to the programme and the leaders than that! As a parent, I appreciate the BB for providing so many varied opportunities in a. safe and structured environment, and its leaders, who in giving up so much of their time are being great role models for our boys.”

I am proud of the organisation and what it stands for. It has unlocked and continues to unlock the potential of youngsters and I wish it continued success. I have taken much pleasure in speaking this evening and commend and congratulate all who have worked in the past, who work in the present and who will continue in the future to ensure that the Boys Brigade goes from strength to strength.


I thank Alexander Stewart for bringing the debate forward. I went through the Boys Brigade as a youngster; I was in the 13th Coatbridge, to be exact—a company that no longer exists, unfortunately. I went through all the sections and have many fond memories of my time in the junior section, which is what inspired me to put my name down to speak in today’s debate.

Members might remember that, towards the end of last term, I hosted an exhibition at the Parliament for the Boys Brigade in Scotland. The motto for the week was:

“The Boys’ Brigade is challenging politicians from across the political spectrum to support its #TeamPlayerScot campaign; working together to recognise the vital role that youth organisations have in promoting a Healthier Scotland through sport and play opportunities for young people.”

That ethos seems to have prevailed since more than 20 years ago—that is being generous—as I recall getting involved in football, badminton and chess while others in the same company might have been getting involved in music, running or other activities from a wide range, as Mr Stewart mentioned.

It is clear that organisations such as the Boys Brigade and the Girls Brigade can help to meet national outcomes in relation to health and education. Many children of junior section age will be facing challenges in their home situations, and attending BBs can be a refuge for them and give them another person to speak to about school or other issues. It is not uncommon for an officer in the Boys Brigade or someone in another organisation to take up an advocacy role for a young person who might be dealing with a school issue, for example.

The BBs and other voluntary organisations can carry out in a non-confrontational way community work that can be hard for local authority providers to do. They can be and are involved with issues such as youth offending and sectarian and hate issues. I say that because, earlier today, the Justice Committee discussed taking forward the proposed member’s bill on the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. During my time in the Boys Brigade in Coatbridge, most people were either Celtic or Rangers fans and some work was done on that.

The Boys Brigade works on healthy relationships from an early age. The junior section officers talk to boys at an early age about what is a healthy and respectful relationship. The officers also work on developing confidence, self-esteem and freedom of thought.

One thing that I remember from the junior section was being encouraged to think independently and analyse information. I have kept in touch with a lot of people from the BBs, either directly or through the new medium of Facebook, and, years on, particularly during the referendum campaign in 2014, I was struck by how passionate those people were. For the sake of argument, I will say that 50 per cent were yes and 50 per cent were no, but all were able to formulate a really good argument. I could not help but wonder how much being involved in the Boys Brigade had contributed to that.

When I supported the exhibition in Parliament, it was clear that many members across all the political parties had a Boys Brigade—or Girls Brigade—background. Perhaps the BBs have done something that is often difficult to do in this chamber and united us all. We must take our hats off to them for that.

As for the next 100 years, I think that the Boys Brigade, including its junior section, is a modern organisation. Although it is, as Mr Stewart said, rooted in a church ethos, membership—as I recall—is not dependent on religion or ethnicity. That was certainly not the case when I was there. This is a personal view and I am by no means saying this in a formal capacity, but it may be time, as the Boys Brigade moves forward after 100 years, to look at a merger with the Girls Brigade or to find other ways to include girls in the Boys Brigade and boys in the Girls Brigade. That is a personal view more than anything else.

Again, I thank Alexander Stewart for the motion and I say well done to the BB and the junior section. I certainly got a lot from it and I hope that everybody else can continue to do so.


I thank Alexander Stewart for securing the debate, which marks an important event in the life and times of the Boys Brigade junior age group. I add my congratulations to the Boys Brigade junior age group on reaching its 100-year anniversary. It is good to see representatives of the brigade in the public gallery and I thank them personally for all the work that they have put in over the years. I know how valued such work is and, having been a member of the Territorial Army and having helped with Army cadets, I know how valuable the experience and the amount of time are that people, including parents, give to such organisations.

For the past 100 years, as the motion notes, being a member of the Boys Brigade has offered children and young people, not just here in Scotland but around the world,

“the chance to excel in new skills or talents, to explore, discover new things and provide opportunities and, above all, to have fun”.

It is therefore appropriate that, to celebrate the past 100 years of the junior section, more than 5,000 members of the Boys Brigade junior age group in Scotland are doing what the organisation has been successfully encouraging members to do for the past 100 years, such as trying new things, taking up opportunities, learning new skills and developing talents that will benefit not only themselves but the wider communities that they live in, as well as becoming good citizens.

The West Scotland region, which I represent, is home to dozens of Boys Brigade companies with junior sections, all of which are doing great work. For example, in Helensburgh, which is in my region, the Boys Brigade junior section offers a weekly programme of activities for eight to 11-year-olds each Wednesday, in addition to the local competitions and special events that it runs. The members come not only from the town but from surrounding villages. In the past year, youngsters have had the chance to experience several special events, including visits to the fire and lifeboat stations as well as an excursion to the Denny ship tank museum in Dumbarton.

There is also the Vale of Leven Boys Brigade junior section, which meets weekly in Bonhill church and is taking part in the juniors 100 challenge as part of the big birthday celebrations. It is encouraging children to take part in the 100 years celebration by completing 100 different challenges. The members have so far looked back at Dunkirk as part of their programme. Earlier this year, they even got the chance to meet a world war two veteran who served at Dunkirk.

It is worth mentioning that, as with all voluntary organisations, the Boys Brigade is able to function correctly only because of the massive amount of support and help provided by its 3,500 adult volunteers, some of whom are represented in the public gallery, as I said. We are grateful for their work and dedication.

In mentioning the Vale of Leven Boys Brigade, it would be remiss of me not to mention one of the section’s adult volunteers, Mrs Mary Burch, who received the British Empire medal for her voluntary work with the Boys Brigade, Mary’s Meals and other community groups.

The Boys Brigade as a whole is a great credit to Scotland and it is an institution that has served our young people well over the years. I am sure that the entire chamber wishes the brigade and the junior section all the best for the next 100 years of their existence.


I add my congratulations to Mr Stewart on securing the debate.

When it comes to the Boys Brigade, I fear that I am rather the black sheep of my family. My grandfather and father, my uncles and brothers-in-law were all BB officers; in fact, most of them were BB captains.

I am afraid that I reached the rather lowly heights of lance corporal in my time as a Boy but, throughout my youth, I was certainly a member of the Boys Brigade, and that began with membership of the Life Boys. In fact, I think that, through those BB connections, I sneaked in a year early, at around seven, and joined the 21st Leith Life Boys, which were based at Ebenezer United Free church, right in the heart of Leith.

My experience of the junior section goes back quite far through the 100 years, although not quite back to the Boy Reserves, which were pre-1926. That is probably just as well, as I found some advice to leaders of the Boy Reserves in the very early days, and it went like this:

“One minute late on parade should disqualify the Boy from attending and no excuse, however good, should allow the Boy to remain. Strictness to the point of severity on this point makes the percentage of perfect attendance very much higher.”

Fortunately, even by the time that I joined the Life Boys, a slightly more enlightened attitude to discipline had begun to prevail.

My time spanned a couple of important historical changes in the century of history of the juniors. First, while I was a Life Boy, we became the junior section, and I remember that change. Looking back on the history, it is clear that some important organisational changes were involved but, for us, the main change was that we stopped wearing that slightly strange sailor’s hat and began to wear a hat that, in all our minds, bore more than a passing resemblance to the hats in “Thunderbirds”.

I was also part of the introduction of the recognition of achievement in the juniors, which Mr Stewart mentioned. Originally, that was done not through badges but through coloured lanyards. The idea was introduced by a leader in the Life Boys at the time, the legendary—or perhaps notorious but certainly fearsome—Miss Gibling of the Leith battalion, who introduced the idea of coloured lanyards to mark achievement and piloted them in the Leith battalion, including the company that I was in. They then became generalised throughout the Life Boys and transformed into the badges that are used to this day to mark achievements in different sectors.

It is worth noting that that important character in the history of the juniors was a woman. Looking back at the history, it is clear that very early on—in the days of the Boy Reserves—many of those who came forward as instructors were women and there was a certain reluctance to accept them. However, they had to be accepted. Initially, they were accepted as honorary instructors, but they later became official lady instructors. It is worth noting the great contribution that women leaders have made to the junior section. In my case, that means mentioning Ruth Johnstone, who was the leader of my Life Boy and junior section, and who was a big influence on me as a young boy. In fact, I met Ruth Johnstone most recently only a few weeks ago, and it was clear to me that she still exercises a certain authority over me, perhaps second only to that of my mother. It is also clear to me that she must have been an awful lot younger in those days than I had understood, because she is still to a degree going strong and has contributed throughout her life.

The juniors 100 challenge goes with the grain and the tradition of the juniors. The challenges go from the sublime to the ridiculous—from learning a circus skill to meeting your MSP—and from traditional activities for the juniors, such as spending a night under canvas, to very new ones, such as getting 100 Facebook likes.

It has been a tremendous 100 years for the junior section, which was, for good or ill, an important part of my formation. I am sure that it will continue to be that for young men and now young women, too, for 100 years to come.

Thank you, Mr Gray. You remind me how much I learn about members’ backgrounds during members’ business debates.

I do not know whether you were ever a Life Boy, Mr McMillan, but we are about to find out. You are the last speaker in the open debate.


No, I was not a Life Boy but I was a member of the junior section of 1st Port Glasgow Boys Brigade.

I congratulate Alexander Stewart on securing the first members’ business debate of the new parliamentary term. I note the declaration of interest that he made. I wanted to speak in the debate because I was a member of 1st Port Glasgow Boys Brigade. As with Fulton MacGregor’s company, that company is no longer in existence. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the junior section. It certainly was an opportunity to learn, as well as run about, play, have some fun and burn off some energy.

I am genuinely pleased to highlight the positivity and opportunities that the Boys Brigade—whether the anchor boys, the junior section, the company section or the senior section—provides to all its members and all our communities. Whether through team building, sport, charity activity, helping people to become good citizens or the many other activities that it does, the Boys Brigade delivers in every constituency in the country, throughout the UK and globally. It has been a force for good and it is a huge cause for celebration that the junior section is now 100 years old.

I mentioned learning and charity. Members know—they have probably heard it once or twice—that I am the parliamentary piper and have the privilege of piping at many events. This summer alone, I piped at the pipathon 2017 charity event, the royal Edinburgh military tattoo and, yesterday, the opening ceremony for the new Queensferry crossing, which came in at £245 million under budget.

We do not know that tune. Perhaps you will play it some time.

I am sure I will.

I started learning the pipes in the 1st Port Glasgow Boys Brigade junior section. Growing up in Port Glasgow while a huge amount of industrial change was happening around me, I started out on that journey into piping. It was a good way to distract me from what was taking place in my community and the learning in the Boys Brigade was useful. It provides life skills for ever. I dare say that all youth organisations will say that they provide the same as part of their offering, and they do. I certainly am happy to promote all the youth organisations that work in our communities and constituencies.

One thing in which I, as an MSP, have taken a huge amount of pride was being asked to take the inspection of the 2nd Gourock Boys Brigade in May 2014. It was the first time that I had ever taken an inspection, although, obviously, I had performed in them many times before. It was a huge privilege and an honour to do it. A few months later, I took part in a debate in the run-up to the referendum. That was a bit more bruising, I hasten to add, but the inspection was fabulous.

Charity work is a mainstay of the Boys Brigade. I remember that, in one event, I obtained a certificate in recognition of having raised the princely sum of £5 for a local organisation. With inflation, that has increased to £100. I kept that certificate until only a couple of years ago.

I am delighted to wish the Boys Brigade junior section a very happy birthday. I am proud to have been a member of the junior section and I wish it every success for the next 100 years and beyond. The Boys Brigade motto, “sure and steadfast”, has stood the test of time, and will stand it in future.

I thank Alexander Stewart for securing this excellent and timely debate.


I congratulate Alexander Stewart on securing the first members’ business debate of the new term and thank all members who have participated in the debate, which has been interesting and positive.

I feel that I should begin with a confession: unlike the other speakers, I was not a member of the Boys Brigade; I came through the scouting movement in my youth.


I know, I know. I say to Mr Gray that it is just one of those things. However, it is a privilege to be part of the Boys Brigade centenary celebrations that Mr Stewart is highlighting in the chamber this evening.

It is clear that the sheer variety of activities that have been carried out over the Boys Brigade’s 100 years have stood all the young people who have taken part—including the members who have participated in the debate—in good stead throughout their lives. I was interested to hear of the experiences of my colleagues Fulton MacGregor and Stuart McMillan and of their mutual experience in relation to the fact that both the companies that they were part of no longer exist. I am sure that that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they were members of those companies; rather, it allows us to reflect on the fact that there is a requirement to ensure that volunteers continue to take part in Boys Brigade companies so that those opportunities can remain available to young people across Scotland’s communities.

For many young people, being part of the Boys Brigade provides them with life lessons that will not be forgotten and will stay with them into adulthood. The work of the Boys Brigade is an important part of the life of Scotland and it complements and contributes to the Government’s mission for Scotland.

After I sat down, it dawned on me that I should have taken the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the officers who was in the junior section when I was there: Mr English, from Coatbridge. During the summer recess, I heard the sad news that he had passed away. Given that the minister is talking about volunteers and the work that they do, I thought that I would take this opportunity to pay my respects to Mr English in the Scottish Parliament. I thank the minister for allowing me to do that.

I am grateful that I was able to afford Fulton MacGregor that opportunity. He highlights the impact that volunteers who support young people across Scotland have on young people as they move into adulthood. Many of those individuals are not forgotten in terms of their impact.

We recognise and value the contribution that the Boys Brigade, the other uniformed organisations, youth work and the third sector more widely make to promoting equity and improved life chances. Indeed, we have allocated £60,000 from the Scottish Government’s children, young people and families early intervention fund to the Boys Brigade to support the work that it does across the communities of Scotland.

At the heart of all that the Boys Brigade does is building confidence, capacity, resilience and skills, while recognising, capturing and celebrating young people’s achievements, which is a point that Iain Gray highlighted. It supports thousands of young men to be the best that they can be, which, in turn, will lead to Scotland continuing to flourish in the future.

It is no secret that this Government wants the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland to close, whenever, wherever and however it is measured, and we have a clear educational policy framework in place to give children and young people every chance to succeed, based on the foundations of getting it right for every child, curriculum for excellence and the developing the young workforce programme. We know that there can be challenges for children in the classroom, but we recognise that the challenges that some children face are rooted well outside the school gates and that, therefore, support for children and families from the early years through to the post-18 period is crucial. That work does not start and end in the classroom; it continues through a young person’s journey into further education and the workplace. The most effective work goes beyond the school gates and into the local community—that is the true breadth of education in Scotland. We recognise the role that youth work can play in that regard, and I particularly highlight the work of the Boys Brigade in engaging young people in areas that the education sector can sometimes struggle to reach, in offering a large chunk of the acknowledged 80 per cent of learning by children and young people that takes place outside school, and in engaging families and communities in a range of opportunities to support our ambitions for young people.

Through opportunities offered by youth work—such as being a member of the Boys Brigade—children and young people can be introduced to science, technology, engineering and maths activities that enable them to participate in fun and enjoyable practical experiences outside the formal classroom setting, without, at first, realising that what they are doing relates directly to those subjects. Realising the breadth of opportunities that those experiences bring can encourage and inspire young people to take up further studies in science, technology, engineering or maths subjects, thus leading to a positive career path. For example, as we all know, members of the uniformed youth work organisations—the Boys Brigade, the Girls Brigade, the girl guides and the scouts—undertake a range of outdoor learning activities. I recognise that that helps to support team building and links into the Scottish Government’s aspiration to increase and improve outdoor learning experiences for young people across Scotland.

I recognise the valuable role that the Boys Brigade plays in promoting and enhancing young people’s confidence, capacity and resilience, which impacts on attainment and achievement. Youth work, in particular, can support young people who are at risk of disengaging from education. We know that youth work changes lives; there is increasing evidence for that.

Youth work provides young people with a safe and nurturing environment where they can share their talents and skills, have fun and learn new things. Thanks to the talents and skills of thousands of youth workers in Scotland, including those who work in Boys Brigade companies—a great many of whom are volunteers—our young people are supported and nurtured to be the best that they can be. Some of those volunteers are young people themselves and, by helping their peers to be all that they can be, they are giving back to their communities. In the Boys Brigade, those volunteers can be young leaders, some of whom might be the only positive male role model in a person’s life. Those young leaders also ensure that the valuable work of the Boys Brigade continues into the next generation.

I thank everyone who is involved in the Boys Brigade, especially those who give their time as volunteers. We need them to utilise their skills and expertise with children and young people, adults, families and communities to support that crucial work and to help with our wider aspirations to improve outcomes for children and young people; to engage those people in activities that will increase their confidence and self-esteem so that they can realise their full potential; and to recognise the difference that, as volunteers, they make to people’s lives through the work that they do.

As a Government, we know that youth work changes lives for the better and can give young people the skills that they need and deserve to succeed in life. Scotland is fortunate to have a vibrant youth work sector that engages hundreds of thousands of young people in fun, challenging and progressive learning activities every week.

The Boys Brigade is a crucial part of the youth work landscape and it matters to us that it continues to do its strong work in supporting young people in the communities of Scotland.

I congratulate everyone who is involved in the 100th anniversary of the Boys Brigade and I give my full support to Alexander Stewart’s motion. I wish the Boys Brigade all the best for the next 100 years.

Meeting closed at 17:36.