Parliament Sky

Bananas, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Scotland’s environment

By Dr Steph Smith, Scotland's Rural College and @ScienceSeaweed - 10 July 2017

Humans are curious creatures. Not in the sense that we are random assemblages of cells which share about 50% of our DNA with a banana; but curious in our desire to learn. The Scottish’s Parliament’s own future ‘think tank’, Scotland’s Futures Forum, and the Scottish Environment, Food and Agricultural Research Institutes (SEFARI) share such curiosities. In a part-time fellowship funded by the recently established SEFARI, I was able to take time away from my post-doctoral role at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and join the Futures Forum team for a couple of months to predict what Scotland might look like in 2030 from an environmental perspective...

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Economy, ecology, aesthetics: competing interests in the land

By Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee and @NellWidger | 31 May 2017

Earlier this year the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and Mountaineering Scotland made an unlikely alliance in opposition to government plans to plant thousands of new trees. According to the Guardian, the Scottish Government intends to increase woodland cover from 17% to 25% by 2050 as part of its Draft Climate Change Plan.

Historically at odds due to conflicts over access, SGA and Mountaineering Scotland were united on this issue because both have an interest in preserving Scotland’s ‘dramatic open views and vistas’. Together, they wrote to the government to express their concern that, if large-scale afforestation went ahead, Scotland would not only lose its most culturally distinctive landscapes, but also some of its most ecologically valuable and globally rare heath and moorland habitats.

The rarity of heather moorland, and its richness as a habitat for rare species, is in fact contested...

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Englightenment Scotland: a civilised nation?

By Nicola Martin, University of Stirling and @NicolaMartin14 - 18 May 2017

“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.” This summary of a quotation from French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire is commonly used by commentators who wish to present Scotland as a beacon of civilisation and enlightenment in both the past and the present. However, such a phrase and interpretation is problematic. It provides little analysis of the true historical picture and instead contributes to the myth of Scottish exceptionalism that has suggested that 18th-century Scotland was somehow morally and intellectually superior to the rest of the world: a myth encapsulated in Arthur Herman’s Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World.

Utilising such a short phrase in order to argue that Scotland represented the epitome of what it was to be civilised in that age also fails to take into account the vast differences within Scotland...

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Rugged, rocky, remote: Scotland and the Romantic imagination

By Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee and @NellWidger | 28 April 2017

A curious thing happened in Scotland during the Romantic period: vast numbers of tourists from Britain, Europe and elsewhere used new road networks and steam packet routes to access the landscapes they valued as wild and remote.

According to John and Margaret Gold, those tourists had two main objectives when they arrived in Scotland (undoubtedly shared by many tourists today), ‘to experience wild landscapes and a sense of union with the natural world’, and ‘to witness the scenes...

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Technology: the driving force of human civilisation?

By Nicola Martin, University of Stirling and @NicolaMartin14 | 20 April 2017

The first line of an article I read this morning proclaimed that: “Technology has driven human civilisation for thousands of years.” [1] Businessman Mukesh Ambani was discussing the opportunities for India to become a world leader in technology as humanity sits on the cusp of a fourth Industrial Revolution that looks set to blur the lines that currently exist between the physical, digital and biological spheres and to alter all aspects of our lives in ways we cannot yet even fully imagine.

Ambani was thinking forward to the future, yet his first comment was to point to the past...

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Scotland's landscapes: natural or naturalised?

By Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee and @NellWidger | 13 April 2017

Something has troubled me as I’ve progressed through my internship thinking about Scotland’s relationship to landscape. My research background in the Environmental Humanities has taught me to be sceptical of the term ‘nature’ – what can it really mean, and does it really exist, in the context of millennia of human exploitation?

Yet in other fields the idea of ‘nature’ is often used to describe something distinctive about Scotland...

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Civilisation: a question of terminology

By Nicola Martin, University of Stirling and @NicolaMartin14 | 5 April 2017

Before we consider what various stakeholders understand by the notion of a civilised nation or civilisation in the present, and even before we consider the various past perspectives of these notions, it is useful to understand the definitions of the words themselves, where the terms originated from and how the definition altered over time to lead to the definition currently accepted in the present.

The definitions of the terms civilised and civilisation are closely related...

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Glaciation and imagination: shaping Scotland’s landscape for 15,000 years

By Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee and @NellWidger | 15 March 2017

I began my last post by describing the view from my Futures Forum desk. Looking past my computer towards Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, I received what Neal Ascherson describes in his beautiful and illuminating book, Stone Voices, as ‘a lesson in the unimaginable forces and lapses of time which have gone to shape the world’.[1]

According to Ascherson, this is a lesson first received by the early Victorians...

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Scotland 2030: Greetings from another Futures Fellow

By Nicola Martin, University of Stirling and @NicolaMartin14 | 10 March 2017

Whilst the current view from my window is not as symbolic as Eleanore’s (I’m currently working from home rather than the Parliament), I too found my thinking for this opening post directed by one of Scotland’s many evocative landscapes.

I started my day as I often do...

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Scotland 2030: Greetings from a Futures Fellow

By Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee and @NellWidger | 2 March 2017

As I write this I can see, to the right of my computer screen, the gorse-covered north-west side of an extinct volcano, a huge slab of rock which juts diagonally out of a 640 acre landscaped royal park in a city centre. Where else could I be but Edinburgh?

More specifically, I’m in an office at the Scottish Parliament, where I’ll be interning for the next few months...

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Scotland's Futures Forum: new kid on the block

By Rob Littlejohn, Head of Business at Scotland's Futures Forum | 2 March 2017

Although I’ve titled this blogpost “New kid on the block”, I can’t pretend that I’m that new, having been in the privileged position of Head of Business for Scotland’s Futures Forum since October last year.

Since being appointed, however, I’ve spent a lot of the time getting my head...

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Scotland's Futures Forum exists to encourage debate. The views expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the Forum's views.