Author Archives: Moyra Forrest

Public understanding of science

BBC Radio 4’s Day of the Scientist (12 Oct.) was timely in a world where science is serving us so well. Sir Patrick Vallance called for science to be as highly regarded as economics by politicians. To that I would add the need for interdisciplinarity. Science and society belong together.

Scotland, to its great discredit, was without a Chief Scientific Adviser for a lengthy period around 2016. Cynics might even have suspected the SNP preferred not to have scientific advice.

During 13 years as an Edinburgh city councillor there seemed little understanding of Science among the majority of councillors and council staff. It would have been comforting to read accurate accounts of properties of materials, to challenge the extremes of populism over e.g. genetic modification, to have been sure that sustainability was more than a buzzword. Happily Liberal Democrats had scientist councillors Sue Tritton and Jim Lowrie in our ranks. And the current group has councillor Kevin Lang.

Public understanding of science is vital, and it is encouraging that many excellent communicators have been given air time during the pandemic. Edinburgh has an annual Science Festival, where people can learn in a fun way – from making lie detectors (very useful for a politician’s bag of tricks) to tasting different chocolates – as well as hearing stimulating talks aimed at a general audience. Chaos theory remains one of my favourites; perhaps helpful in assessing the current crop of ruling politicians.

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Is our party hierarchical?

Despite the rhetoric, evidence might give us cause for thought. MPs and MSPs/Welsh Assembly Members seem to take precedence over the councillors who build up the party’s base again and again. I would argue that we should be an integrated whole – with much more mutual respect and understanding. And of course, never forgetting the parish councillors and Lords who serve us so well.

Councillors delivered excellent results last year, arguably giving the credibility which benefitted the party in the European elections. The party then extrapolated predicted General Election success from the latter; neglecting wisdom which cautions against using only quantitative information. Had other smaller parties built up that local government base, would the European results have been different?

When the Scottish Parliament came into being, our MSPs seemed to give less priority to proportional representation for local government than some serving councillors hoped for. In fact, that proportional representation took a number of years, and contributed in a small way to my decision not to seek re-election after 13 years (1990-2003). It can become disheartening to be always in opposition; I had a satisfying career as a research librarian, and wanted time to index books. The seat remained Liberal Democrat at the next election.

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