Alastair Osborne reports from an alternate future in an independent Scotland where the anniversary of the first moon landing is being marked quite differently from today.
Who would have thought that right here in post independence Scotland in 2025 we would be preparing for the launch of the first space tourism flight from the new Prestwick Spaceport. It will be blasting off just 56 years after Apollo 11 landed the first man on the moon.
It was back in 2014, in the final weeks of the referendum campaign, with the ‘Yes’ vote flat-lining several percentage points behind in the opinion polls, that the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, came up with his game changer announcement:
“As Scotland’s first Prime Minister, I will secure the siting of the Virgin Galactic Spaceport at Prestwick Airport. I am confident this small step for Scotland will be a giant leap for mankind. That sounds rather good, though I say somyself.”
The No side poured cold water on the idea, claiming that an independent Scotland would have no automatic entry into membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) and that membership negotiations could drag on for years.
Exactly how much this bold initiative changed opinion in Scotland will never be known, but when the referendum votes were counted a few weeks later ‘Yes’ had sneaked it by a 0.5% margin. Now, 11 years on and 6 years after Scotland eventually became independent, the optimism of these early days has drained away – with plans for a currency union finally abandoned, negotiations to gain re-entry to the European Union complicated by Brexit and talks with the remaining UK to remove Trident in deadlock.
It isn’t surprising that the new Prime Minister, Derek Mackay, is making the most of the one assertion that has become reality – early entry into the ESA and the successful siting of the new Virgin Galactic Spaceport at Prestwick.
After two years of trials the Scottish Government has announced that the first flight carrying space tourists is due this autumn. The project, with the working title ‘Wired to the Moon’, is being overseen by the Scottish Government’s space travel Tsarina, former singer Eddi Reader.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Sir Richard Branson she outlined plans for a public competition to decide who should be on that first Scottish space flight with the results of the public vote being announced live on the BBC Scotland Channel. There are rumours that among those keen to participate are the former Prime Minister, Alex Salmond; Scots Attorney General, Joanna Cherry; and former Wings over Scotland blogger, now Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, Rev Stuart Campbell.
Some commentators see the decision to allow the public to decide who will be on the flight as a very brave move as they will be taking off on a space craft whose name was also chosen by a public vote earlier this year. In that vote, Scots, with tongues firmly in cheek, voted overwhelmingly for the name ‘Hubris 1’.