The RSE hosted online discussion panels at the Scottish Greens, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party conferences in October and November.

These sessions focussed on the Building National Resilience theme of the Commission and provided an opportunity to explore what a resilient nation looks like. Chaired by Professor Sir Ian Boyd, as the Commissioner leading the Building National Resilience work, the panels involved RSE Fellows and Young Academy of Scotland members from a range of backgrounds.

The discussions were the Commission’s first public engagement events. They provided an opportunity to raise awareness among the public and politicians of the Commission and to stimulate thinking and generate ideas to inform our work aimed at enhancing Scotland’s ability to anticipate and respond to major shocks.

The discussions highlighted the breadth and complexity of resilience, and of preparing for major shocks and disruptions which may be far into the future. There is a twin challenge of developing a common understanding of resilience as well as being able to assess it. This emphasises the importance of ensuring there is widespread public understanding of risk and risk management so that the public can both play its part in supporting resilience and to holding decision makers to account. Public input and buy-in is also needed in determining desired levels of resilience and in balancing potential trade-offs between different elements, for example, between the economy and environment.

There was a high level of recognition at our events that building resilience should be a priority for Scotland as it recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

This will require collaboration across government (at all levels), institutions, public services, the third and private sectors, as well as individuals. It will be important to ensure that diverse perspectives are sought, including engaging with traditionally harder-to-reach parts of society. There is also an opportunity for Scotland to look at and learn from international experiences in dealing with the pandemic.

The pandemic has magnified existing systemic problems within society including levels of inequality and the fragility of some parts of the economy especially where there is low skilled employment. However, there are examples of community resilience, the crucial role that the third sector has played in supporting those most in need, the adaptability of businesses which, with appropriate support and interventions, can be further built upon to increase resilience. There are opportunities to think creatively and do things differently, such as with the potential introduction of Universal Basic Income.

Policies, interventions and resources are needed to address areas of weakness and to prepare for future challenges.

These should be informed by improvements in the way in which we collect and use data. There is an opportunity to look at issues in the round, including making connections between resilience and major societal challenges, including climate change and demographic change.

Looking to the future, the Building National Resilience working group will, through widespread engagement, seek to identify the key risks and challenges that Scotland faces, and what actions and policies are necessary to address these in order to build a more resilient Scotland.

Our party conference events were well received and attracted large attendances from the party memberships and from other stakeholders. We are continuing to develop our engagement plans, including through events, focus groups, case studies and podcasts, so please stay connected to be involved in future opportunities.

Panel event participants:

  • The Scottish Greens Party conference panellists: Professor Sir Ian Boyd FRSE, Professor Alison Phipps FRSE, Dr Leslie Mabon YAS, and Andy Wightman MSP.
  • The Scottish Liberal Democrats Party conference panellists: Professor Sir Ian Boyd FRSE, Professor Marian Scott FRSE, Professor Alastair Ager FRSE, and Willie Rennie MSP.
  • The Scottish National Party conference panellists: Professor Sir Ian Boyd FRSE, Professor Chris Johnson FRSE, Dr Shonaig Macpherson CBE FRSE, Talat Yaqoob FRSE and Jamie Hepburn MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills.


Written by Paul Stuart, Secretariat for the Building National Resilience Working Group, December 2020.