Futureproofing Scotland '˜should be a top priority for Holyrood'

The Scottish Parliament has been urged to create a 'committee for the future' to embrace the challenges and opportunities of 21st-century technology such as lab-grown meat and personalised healthcare.

Nicola Sturgeon at Londons FutureFest in July. Picture: PA

The Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and the political parties’ business managers are facing calls to establish the new body to look at emerging technologies, including the increasing use of artificial intelligence and medical advances.

The proposal has been outlined in a letter sent by Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, who believes Scotland should follow the example of Iceland and Finland where similar schemes have been established.

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According to Stihler, one of Scotland’s longest-serving parliamentarians, failure to look ahead at the impact of future advances could see Scotland left behind in a range of spheres from road safety to climate change.

Her proposal was inspired by a recent trip to Iceland, where Stihler led a European Parliament delegation. She learned of Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jacobsdottir’s initiative to set up a futures committee for long-term thinking.

The establishment of the Icelandic committee followed in the footsteps of Finland, which had already established a similar cross-party body to scrutinise government policy and identify future technologies.

Among the issues being examined in Iceland is “lab-grown meat” – the process whereby food is produced by animal cell culture technology. Those in favour of the technique believe it could have huge implications for the environment and world hunger.

The invention could also have an impact on traditional methods of food production, which is one of Scotland’s economic strengths.

Stihler also believes the committee should consider the opportunities offered by increasing automation as well as the effect that it could have on existing jobs.

As vice-chair of the European Parliament’s consumer protection committee, Stihler has been looking at artificial intelligence and applying it to subjects like personalised health diagnostics and driver safety. She said: “Iceland has recognised the vital importance of long-term thinking and we need to replicate that in Scotland and the UK or we risk being left behind.

“We need a committee for the future to address the challenges of the 21st century. This permanent cross-party committee could address issues such as automation, artificial intelligence, climate change and technological research.

“There are great opportunities for the advancement of humankind and many high-skilled jobs will be created around the world. But we need to prepare the next generation of workers to ensure that Scotland does not miss out and re-skill people to meet the threat of job losses from the rise of machines.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The establishment of committees is for the parliamentary bureau [which is made up of party business managers] to determine.”