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Rennie: SNP undermining Scotland's reputation for science

November 11, 2015 12:21 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will today say that the SNP government is undermining Scotland scientific reputation as he addresses delegates at "Science at the Parliament" at Holyrood.

Mr Rennie will challenge the position of the SNP on GM crops and highlight the record of Liberal Democrats in promoting science and protecting funding for science in government.

During his speech Mr Rennie is expected to say:

It is patently obvious that we should adopt an evidence-based policy on genetic engineering and biotechnologies.

However, in August the Scottish Government took advantage of a new EU opt-out and introduced a blanket ban on GM crops.

The Environment Secretary justified it as protecting Scotland's "clean and green brand".

But it isn't clear on what evidence, if any, this decision was made. The Parliament didn't take evidence on a ban or sign up to it.

It is illiberal to ban something on the basis of perception, rather than evidence.

What kind of this message does this send to the scientific community here in Scotland and beyond? How does help the likes of the James Hutton and Rowett institutes - world leaders in this sector? It suggests Scotland is closed for business.

The ban has been criticised by Edinburgh, Robert Gordon and Dundee universities and organisations from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to NFU Scotland.

The head of the Scottish Science Advisory Council, which wasn't consulted either, said there are "no examples of adverse consequences" and that GM crops are kinder to the environment as they reduce the need for pesticides.

The last Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland, Professor Muffy Calder, said it could have "apocalyptic" consequences, leaving key cash crops such as potatoes, soft fruits and barley - essential for our whisky - more susceptible to disease. She said the ban was based on "fear of the unknown" and some "unscrupulous articles in the very early days about potential health risks". A damning indictment.

Her predecessor, Professor Anne Glover, also said it was "not possible to equate 'clean and green' with anti-GM" and described Scotland's failure to use the best available EU-approved technology as "a missed opportunity".

Far from protecting Scotland's reputation the Scottish Government is undermining it. Just like those who questioned Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, ministers are indulging in an anti-science philosophy.

You would expect ministers to at least have consulted their current Chief Scientific Advisor. The only problem is, they haven't had one for the last 11 months. The post has lain vacant since December 2014. That says it all.

I find it hard to believe that ministers couldn't have found anyone qualified to fill the post in the meantime.