When I started jotting down ideas for the debate, I concentrated, at first, on physical activity and the need to plan our communities so that there is space for children to play spontaneously, so that they can be active not only in an organised setting but in their everyday life. However, as I was writing, I realised that my speech was starting to resemble a rerun of that I gave during the recent childhood obesity debate, which I did not want. The briefing from Play Scotland, which all members received, lists other side effects of a lack of play opportunities, which include not only issues relating to physical health and fitness, but poor motor skills, an inability to deal with stress and trauma and an inability to manage and assess risk.
Then I thought of a story about a friend of mine who lives with her partner in a croft on the west coast. Last summer, her two nephews from the central belt visited for the holidays, for the first time without their parents. They are active boys who are involved in lots of sporting activities and whose parents spend a lot of time ferrying them between sports centres, football pitches and so on in the urban area in which they live. My friend was confident that they would have a good holiday, although she was a bit worried about safety, because at one side of the croft there is the sea and at the other there are the mountains. She thought that she would spend the holiday pinning them down and stopping them running off.
However, it was not like that. They had a great, active holiday but they always had an adult with them because, although they are not couch potatoes by any means, all the activities that they have engaged in have been facilitated by adults. I was struck by what my friend said to me: "When I went to look for them, they were always where I last saw them." The boys are well adjusted, healthy, nice and physically fit. They are definitely not the battery children that Ken Macintosh mentioned. Yet, something that was once a part of childhood is missing from them. I think that that is quite serious because what is missing or being stifled is a sense of adventure and exploration. If we want people to grow up to be adventurous, inquisitive and curious in the way that leads to scientific discovery and entrepreneurial and enterprising activities, we must not inadvertently stifle that sense of adventure in our children, which is where such things start.
That is why the debate is important. We are not talking only about physical fitness and stopping people getting fat and unhealthy, although that is important, but about the other skills that a child once learned spontaneously as part of the life of a child in Scotland, without any adult direction or input. We have to consider some sort of redesign of the life of a child in Scotland and a redesign of the communities in which that life is lived. At the moment, something that should be nurtured is being stifled. That bodes ill for future generations.