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Coming off the fence: why I decided to engage in politics

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

As someone who works closely with governments in the UK and internationally, I have long preferred to keep my politics to myself, and present myself as an apolitical researcher. This position has been part expedience (I don't want to compromise my influence) and part fear (I don't like confrontation and don't want to create political enemies).

I have never believed that there is any such thing as objectivity or independence in research. I say this as a conservationist by training; a discipline that wears its values on its sleeves. In the current debate over innovation zones in England, depending on the questions you ask, you may draw on evidence that such a policy could create new jobs and stimulate local economies. However, you could draw on research to show the impact this would have on nature, and the broader impact of pursuing compound economic growth on our ability to meet net zero targets. In research, as in policy, the answers you get depend on the questions you ask, and these in turn reflect your values.

As a conservationist, despite what I have maintained publicly, it turns out that I took sides long ago on the question of economic growth versus protecting the natural world. Although I'd like to argue that protecting the environment should be a cross-party issue that is not politicised, it is impossible to escape the reality that any decision between economic growth and reducing emissions is an inherently political decision.

Now that I've resigned from my Government role, I have joined the Scottish Greens, I am supporting Yes Scotland and the Scottish Government's vision for more socially just and sustainable Scotland based on a wellbeing economy, that is ultimately an independent nation within the European Union. I am doing this by providing both paid and unpaid support for Scottish Government as an advisor on natural capital policy and a member of the Agricultural Reform Implementation Oversight Board. I am also now actively supporting climate campaigning groups, starting locally with Huntly Climate Action and Deveron Projects, building on my work as a volunteer director of Huntly Development Trust. I am also learning more about what I can do further afield, for example by supporting Green New Deal Rising, building on what I'm doing as volunteer Research Lead for the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, my volunteering work for UNEP's Global Peatlands Initiative and as Co-Director of SRUC's Thriving Natural Capital Challenge Centre. I'd love to know if you are aware of groups I should reach out to, where I might be able to make a contribution with limited time.

Each of my existing roles are safe ways to make a difference, but playing safe won't always be enough to keep us safe from climate change, and I want to do more. These are baby steps and I will probably stumble and fall many times before I am able to do anything meaningful, but I want to get off the fence, and start to be part of the solution.

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