Nigel’s Notes - Finding the right expert is a headache

I am heartened by the news that Stonehaven is now a Fairtrade town. We are joining a long list of places which have signed up to make a difference to the way the world trades.

There is no doubt in my mind that achieving this status, which involved commitment from all schools in Stonehaven, will affect what we do and why we do it.

The underlying values of Fairtrade; justice and sustainable development are the values that I hope pervades all our decision making. Scotland is a leader in policy and legislation that promotes these values – largely as a result of taking advice from experts in their fields.

Having good evidence helps us to make good decisions. I was fortunate to be able to attend a lecture given by Prof Bill Sutherland of Cambridge University at the Royal Society of Edinburgh last week.

He not only made the subject very interesting but he gave a masterclass in presentation, artfully fitting his scientific message around the illustration of the sinking of the Titanic. I think his main points were firstly that we need scientists in politics and in the associated places of policy leadership, and secondly that it is difficult to find the right “expert”.

Getting scientists – and I should add engineers – into public life has always been difficult. There are not many of us in the Scottish Parliament; and had I not been made redundant many years ago I imagine I would have pursued a typical career in chemical engineering and never thought of going anywhere near politics. Apart from anything else I would have been far better paid in industry.

I continue to believe that a career in politics should be your second career as it’s important to have done something else first and to have the life experience which comes with it. Clearly there’s no easy route to getting more folk with a technical background involved, but if you think you could contribute then I’m always willing to have a chat about it.

Finding the right expert is a headache; we all know what it’s like. Something does not work; you ring up someone in the directory; and of course they can deal with it; but there’s a call out charge, and you have a feeling that any repair is going to be expensive – because that’s just the way it is! When did you last speak to someone who told you how to fix it yourself and where you could get the bit cheaply?

What should we be considering for future scientific funding? Well the first expert you speak to will tell you that what you really need is exactly their current research programme, and of course they are the expert in this field.

The next expert will (curiously) think that his area of research is far more important. Now try getting a parliamentary committee with no particular expertise to examine these decisions and see if we can get good answers.

Actually we get a lot of help as MSPs. The Scottish Parliament Information Centre is brilliant, and the staff are particularly good at recognising the level of understanding which we start with. None the less I suggest there is plenty of room for scientists and engineers to come and join us. Please give it a thought.