SNP government ‘antagonistic’ to scientific advice

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon looks through a microscope at Clyde BioSciences. The Scottish Government is stepping up its drive to recruit Scotland's chief scientific adviser. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon looks through a microscope at Clyde BioSciences. The Scottish Government is stepping up its drive to recruit Scotland's chief scientific adviser. Picture: PA
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THE SNP government’s “antagonism” to scientific advice is deterring the country’s top experts from working with ministers, leading scientists have warned.

It emerged yesterday that the government has been unable to fill the role of chief scientific adviser (CSA) after a recruitment drive earlier this year. It is now to be re-advertised, with applications also being sought for roles on Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC).

It comes after the recent ban on genetically modified (GM) crops on Scotland was implemented without scientific advice, as well as a moratorium on fracking and SNP’s anti-nuclear stance.

One of Scotland’s most respected scientific figures, Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, has now raised concerns over the SNP’s approach.

“There is a concern I think on the part of many scientists about the GM thing – they just came out and banned it without apparently taking scientific advice,” he said.

“You can take scientific advice and ignore it – that’s the prerogative of politicians – but they didn’t even do that. So it raised the kind of issue that if you’re going to be the chief scientist and you’re going to give advice and they’re going to just do things anyway then why bother?

“I suspect that may have had some impact.”

The academic said there has been a “degrading” of the post in recent years with the CSA no longer reporting direct to the First Minister.

“The post is not what it used to be,” he said. “The scientific advisers have a hotline to the top down in England and even in the EU.”

Professor Muffy Calder stood down from the role of CSA last December and recently spoke out against the GM ban.

Professor Tony Trewavas chairman of Scientific Alliance Scotland, said: “Why should anyone take up the post when this government seems antagonistic to the advice it’s going to get?

“The whole impression I get from this Scottish Government is that it doesn’t really like scientific advice at all.

“On issues like nuclear, GM crops, fracking and synthetic gas, they’re not listening to scientific evidence. They’re listening, in fact to what activist groups tell them, which is a sure recipe for disaster in the future.”

The role of chief scientific adviser is currently being covered by the remaining chief scientists for health and rural affairs, food and the environment, and will re-advertised.