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New administrations: Prospects for science in Scotland

Scottish parliament
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The dust has settled following the Scottish Parliament elections. Nicola Sturgeon returns as the first minister; the Scottish National Party has formed a minority government, and the Scottish Conservatives are the main opposition party. So what are the prospects for physics in the next term?

In their manifesto, the SNP promised to “encourage greater external involvement in key aspects of learning, such as enterprise [and] STEM”. They also pledged to support “research and development initiatives between academic institutions and businesses” and the eight Innovation Centres already in existence. Another welcome commitment was to develop and implement a Scottish STEM strategy. This will be the first STEM strategy in Scotland since Wendy Alexander, then Labour minister for science, instigated “a strategic framework for science in Scotland” in 2008.

The SNP have said that they will put education at the forefront of their programme for government and promised that their “STEM strategy will offer young people qualifications, knowledge and training in key economic sectors with known skills gaps like engineering, digital technology, science, life sciences and construction”.

As a fellow pro-independence party, the Greens are likely to be allies to the SNP on many issues. The Scottish Green Party had strong science content in their manifesto, which bodes well for the Greens holding the SNP to account on their manifesto commitments in STEM. However, the manifesto of the main opposition party, the Scottish Conservatives was science-light. So it will be interesting to see whether this will make a difference to the emphasis on STEM.

John Swinney, former cabinet secretary for finance, has been appointed as cabinet secretary for education and skills and has overall responsibility for higher education and science. Under Swinney, Shirley-Anne Somerville has been given a specific remit for further education, higher education and science.

With this ministerial team in place, let’s hope that the new Scottish Government recognises the importance of STEM to the country and that they put in place policies that will invest in this essential area. The IOP will continue to emphasise to politicians and government that physics matters and that it requires sustained investment at all levels after the election and, with the help of members, we will remind them of their promises.

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