The Scottish Government has come under fire after it emerged the country will remain without a Chief Scientific Adviser until the spring – meaning the key post will have lain vacant for almost a year-and-a-half.
Education minister Alasdair Allan has confirmed that interviewing potential candidates will not now get under way until April, meaning it is likely to be after the May election before a successor to Professor Muffy Calder is found.
Prof Calder quit in December 2014 and the government was unable to fill the role in a recruitment drive last year. The post has now been re-advertised but ministers have since come under fire after imposing a ban on GM crops without taking scientific advice. A moratorium on fracking has also been imposed while research is undertaken.
The Scottish Government has said it can still take advice from a range of experts, including the recently appointed Scottish Scientific Advisory Council.
But Conservative public health spokeswoman Nanette Milne said the Chief Scientific Adviser post is an “important government role” in promoting scientific evidence in policy-making.
She added: “It is quite astonishing that it has taken so long for the Scottish Government to recruit for this post.
“There seems to be a lack of urgency on the matter and it has obviously slipped the SNP’s radar, with other scientists having to backfill.”
Concerns over the SNP’s approach to the GM ban last year prompted warnings from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and one of Scotland’s most respected scientific figures, Professor Hugh Pennington, that the SNP administration may be viewed as having an “anti-science” approach.
Professor Tony Trevawas, of the Scientific Alliance Scotland, said he suspected the timing means no new appointment will be made until after the election. “I don’t think particular government wants to hear scientific advice,” he said.
Dr Allan told Ms Milne in a parliamentary answer that the deadline for applications for the post closes at the end of this month, with interviews to be held in April. “We expect that the successful candidate will be announced as soon as possible after that,” he said.
Dr Allan said the remaining chief scientists, covering health and rural affairs, food and the environment, continue to advise ministers.
“The Scottish Government remains committed to drawing on the very best science advice and expertise,” he added.
“Ministers and officials continue to draw upon a range of science advice and expertise across all policy areas.”