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Physics in the party manifestos for the Scottish elections 2016

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Image: Shutterstock/Leonid Andronov

Science provides a fundamental understanding of the world in which we live and is central to our society. Despite this, science. and particularly physics, are not usually part of any discussions around an election, despite their crucial importance.

So what promises do the political parties make about science and technology in their manifestos?

Science merits one mention in the Conservative party manifesto, on page 25. The Conservatives recognise the importance of encouraging high-quality graduates to become teachers, especially in STEM subjects.

The Green manifesto mentions science and technology in several places. They pledge to “support the research necessary for evidence-led action on better health” under their healthy society section. They also talk about “science-based marine planning” and research into agricultural practices in the chapter on the environment. In terms of education, the Greens proposed to distance themselves from the Research Excellence Framework, so that – they suggest – the universities can “concentrate on real research and teaching”. They “call for increased funding for Modern Apprenticeships and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” under the energy section in order that these skilled people are available to work in the renewable energy sector. The Greens make numerous mentions of how science and technology can support the Scotland’s economy.

Scottish Labour’s manifesto first mentions investing in “science research” on page 15 under the heading of “Building the businesses of the future”. They mention the life sciences as an important sector. In the section “Preparing our young people for the future” they say: “We will inspire our new generation of world-leading scientists and innovators to give our country the skills we need to succeed.” They also specifically mention that girls should be encouraged to enter STEM-related careers. There are no further specific mentions of science, but there are commitments to tackling climate change and references to the digital economy.

The manifesto for the Scottish Liberal Democrats advocates “support for universities and science, including more women in science, technology, engineering and maths” on page 4. They also promise to “champion science funding and support Scottish universities to continue to secure high levels of UK science funding” under their section on education. There are several other pledges on science and technology in the section “Strong universities and science”. The manifesto has no further specific mention of science, although they are several pledges on tackling climate change.

The UKIP manifesto has little mention of science, other than to support “research into GM foods”.

Finally, Scottish National Party’s manifesto first mentions science on page 10 under “Investing to succeed”, where the party pledges to “encourage greater external involvement in key aspects of learning”, such as enterprise and STEM. They also state 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.” There are more mentions of science and research under “A Wealthier Scotland”, where the SNP pledges to support “research and development initiatives between academic institutions and businesses” and the eight Innovation Centres already in existence. They also promise to develop and implement a Scottish STEM strategy in their “More and better paid jobs” section. Science, engineering and technology are also mentioned under “key sectors” of the Scottish economy. The SNP also commits to action on climate change and improving the digital network, as do most of the parties.

The Institute of Physics 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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