14 March 2019

S5M-16312 Space Nation

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16312, in the name of Ivan McKee, on building on Scotland’s strengths in technology and engineering to become Europe’s leading space nation.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

For this debate, two obvious questions come to mind. First, why Scotland? And secondly, why space? The answers are really quite obvious.

Why space? In Scotland, we have a long tradition of engineering and invention, and many of the technologies that we use today are possible because of that history. David Stewart referred to James Watt, who introduced the steam engine to our industries. John Logie Baird invented the television; indeed, he demonstrated the first colour television in the late 1920s, not long after the first black and white television. Ken Gibson referred to Montgomery Scott of Star Trek but failed to provide the quotation from the actor, James Doohan, who played Scotty and who, when asked by the director of the film what nationality he thought the engineer should be, simply replied

“all the world’s best engineers have been Scottish.”

That is why Star Trek had a Scottish engineer.

Scotland continues to punch above its weight—we all know that. Members have referred to many of the companies in the west of Scotland such as Spire, which has been blown away by the first-class employees that it can attract in Scotland; that is why Glasgow houses its European headquarters.

Now, why space? Well, space represents an infinite—or near infinite—possibility. In financial terms, we have heard about the value of the industry now and the expectations that it will triple in the lifetime of many of the people who are here today. Capturing just a little bit of that cake would be extremely valuable for our economy, for growth, for the creation of well-paid jobs and, indeed, for the development of new technologies and ownership of the intellectual property here, in order to provide enduring income streams. The public sector has its role in providing the consents and the infrastructure at both UK and Scottish level.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. Space has soft power, which we need to recognise. Sputnik 1 went up on 4 October 1957, as a demonstration of Soviet power, and Sputnik 2, with the first mammal, a dog called Laika, on board, went up to align with the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution—in what was, according to the old calendar, October 1917—on 3 November 1957. Therefore, it is about soft as well as hard power.

We need to look beyond ourselves, at what we can be rather than what we are. I simply love the Shan Jahan quotation that is on the side of the Taj Mahal, which says:

“happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to make the sacrifice to make them come true.”

Well, we have dreams for space and we have the means to make them come true—they do not even need great sacrifice.

Tavish Scott made an important point when he said that we should be the first, and the history of space illustrates that. Who was the second woman in space? The answer is Kondakova. We remember Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first, but we do not remember who was second. Who was the second American to orbit the earth? We remember John Glenn, who was the first, but Gus Grimmon we might not remember. And who was the second Soviet? He was Titov; Gargarin, of course, we remember.


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