responsible debate small


Democracies pride themselves in allowing space for free political discussion as a way of peacefully working out compromises for how to live together in the context of opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation and competition over scarce resources. Because of this, we need ways of disagreeing with each other and yet achieving common ground. Politics has always been a place of disagreement and debate, but recent politics – especially in the age of social media – seems to be increasingly polarised. So the question we want to address is whether there are there better and worse ways to disagree with one another? Can responsible public debate renew democracy?

To do begin to do so, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland is organising a 1-day event with politicians, media personalities, campaigners, activists and academics to share experience and propose possible principles for a draft Responsible Public Debate Charter for Scotland. The event will be hosted by Matthew Chrisman, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, with the help of fellow YAS members Alice Konig, Peter McColl, and John O’Connor. Invited speakers include

Harriet HarrisUniversity Chaplain and Head of the Chaplaincy Service University of Edinburgh
Ken MacintoshPresiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and an MSP for the West Scotland Region
Stephen ReicherProfessor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews
Kathleeen Stock - Feminist Campaigner and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex
Kal Turnbull - Founder of the ChangeMyView subreddit and co-founder of
Jim Wallace - Former MP, MSP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords
Kirsty Wark - BBC Journalist and Newsnight host

These speakers will discuss their individual experience(s) in discussing opinions in different fora about topics of public debate or disagreement and conclude with a proposed (even if provisional) principle for responsible public debate. General Q&A and a roundtable discussion will be used to collect feedback on the proposed principles and what following them might do for promoting collaborative discussion of contentious issues.

The workshop is stage one of the project, with further stages including a website, public events, schools outreach, and eventual publication of the charter. For more information, please contact Matthew Chrisman []

YAS appoints a Thematic Lead for each of its six Strategic Themes.  The Thematic Leads advise on the work programme of YAS and are a point of contact for members interested in developing a project. 

The current Thematic Leads are:

 Emilie Combet photo


Emilie Combet

 Alice Konig


Alice Konig



Adam Stokes

 Horsfall Louise photo


Louise Horsfall

 Forgan Duncan


Duncan Forgan

 MAC photo


Maria Ana Cataluna

On the 20th April, the Young Academy of Scotland held its first Plenary meeting of 2017 at the Scottish Government buildings in Edinburgh. The theme of this Spring Plenary was: For a Progressive and Open Society: A YAS Routemap. As is normally the case at Plenaries and AGMs, YAS covered normal 'YAS Business' and Working Group updates and, during this Plenary, the membership also completed a Horizon Scanning workshop run by YAS members, Kate Walker, Victoria Loughlan, Maria Dornelas and Alice Konig.


Sarah has created this page to update members on the actionable points from the day and any information they may have missed - there are also videos/images you can share below as well as details on the next Plenary - our AGM which is being held in St. Andrews.



We've written some brief notes from the day, including key takeaways and points from members during discussion of working groups, YAS business and the Horizon Scanning. There are also notes about the results of the Horizon Scanning workshop and the key takeaways and thoughts from this.

Download these notes from the Plenary here.

We also asked working groups to create posters for their group's work and future goals to present at the Plenary, you can see these below, click to download.

Arts and Humanities screenshotCIS ScreenshotEIE screenshot HWB screenshot

industry screenshot   KP screenshotRTH ScreenshotStA screenshot


Actions for Members

Read the revised documents below [comments to]

Volunteer to be YAS spokesperson for specific area (suggesting subject area they could cover) [volunteers to] - see 'Representing YAS' document below for details.


Documents to Review

YAS Statute 2017

Representing YAS (Draft)

Branding and Funding Document

YAS Legacy and Emeritus Policy  


Opportunities for Members

Brexit Observatory:

Maria Cataluna has proposed a new project on Brexit and its impact on individuals in research. This is now getting underway, and if you'd like to be involved and haven't yet expressed so, please contact maria []

Working Group Opportunities:

Computing in Schools – someone to help with fundraising and logistics

Open Data – Need Working Group Lead(s)

Health & Wellbeing – Need Working Group Lead(s)

Industry – looking for people who might have backgrounds in socially impactful or social enterprise

Arts, Humanities & Society – looking for co-lead to stand with Mirko

[volunteers to current WG leads or]


Next Meeting - Summer AGM

Our next meeting is the Annual General Meeting, we are holding it at the University of St. Andrews on Friday 8th September; there will also be an option for members to attend on the 7th, the night before, for a social dinner and ceilidh, we have arranged accommodation for this. There may be a small surcharge for this social part of the AGM to cover costs; if you are interested in attending the social, please let myself know so that we can get an idea on numbers. An official eventbrite will be set up soon.


Other Links/Material

Public Post to Share - this is the public post of the Plenary, please share this with your colleagues/followers on twitter if you wish. This page should remain private for members/those receiving the newsletter.

For some images from the day see the slideshow below and a timelapse video. If you have any additional images, please could you send these to - they're very useful for reports and other communications!!




This page contains the latest media clippings and press releases relating to the Young Academy of Scotland and its activities.  For any press enquiries please contact the Young Academy of Scotland team at / 0131 240 5027

Media Clippings:

Students Must Dare to Dream The Sunday Times Letters to the Editor, Neil McLennan, 22 January 2017

Push for more women in the top jobs at universities The National, 9 June 2016

West Linton Primary wins Award Compute Scotland, 12 May 2016

Don't wait for crises to reach public with science SciDev.Net, Dr Tolu Oni, 23 February 2016

Don’t stop at the headline! The Psychologist, Ella Rhodes- Volume 29 (March 2016)

How Lego is Building the Engineers of the Future The Scotsman, Chris McCall- 7 January 2016

Lego-loving pupils prepare for robot battle loving pupils prepare for robot battleThe Herald, Barry Didcock- 23 November 2015

'Rewrite The Headlines': Science and news competition opens to Scots school kids Herald Scotland, Gerry Braiden 31 August 2015

How do we inspire next generation? The Scotsman, Brian Donnelly - 21 January 2015

Kids need to get with the programme - The Scotsman, by Fiona McNeil and Laura Meilke 24 December 2014

Press Releases

RSE Young Academy of Scotland Releases Position Statement on Brexit January 2017

RSE Young Academy of Scotland Welcomes New Members July 2016

RSE Young Academy of Scotland to launch At-Risk Academic and Refugee Member Initiative March 2016

Young robotics champions win chance to go to USA for World LEGO Final February 2016

Winners announced in national competition January 2016

Young Academy says #ThankYou #InspiringTeachers December 2015

First Lego League Inspires 1,000 Scottish Children to Revel in Robotics December 2015

Scotland's RSE Young Academy Publishes Strategic Plan for 2015-2020 October 2015

Researchers head to the classroom to make headlines August 2015

Young Academy stresses numeracy skills for new school term August 2015

Young Academies from across Europe criticise proposed cuts to EU research budgets February 2015

Lego league helps inspire Scotland’s future computing stars November 2014

National Young Academies of Europe intensify collaboration November 2014

Arts and Humanities research is vital but undervalued in Scotland October 2014

Young Academy of Scotland Post Referendum Statement September 2014

Scotland’s Young Academy welcomes 43 new members August 2014

Astrophysicist and Heart Doctor show that ‘Numeracy Counts’ May 2014


International Links Working Group

in 2015 the Young Academy of Scotland set up a working group to develop productive international links. More on the working group here.

Global connections:

The burgeoning worldwide Young Academy movement started in Germany in the year 2000. Set up as a joint project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Die Junge Akademie was the first example and similar initiatives in many other countries have begun to develop of the last 15 years.

Current National Young Academies:

In Europe:


Outside Europe:


Global Young Academy -

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Global Young Academy - May 2013

The Global Young Academy (GYA) was set-up in 2010 to provide "a rallying point for outstanding young scientists from around the world to come together to address topics of global importance." It draws a membership from over 50 countries worldwide and runs a variety of working groups concentrating on issues such as science and young people, women in science and science in the developing world. There are a number of collaborative internaitonal activities that have been facilitated by the GYA that YAS has been invovled in.   

There are currently two YAS members involved in the GYA:



Global Young Academy - Karen Lorimer, YAS member and Member of the Global Young Academy


Other opportunities and connections have sprung up form the internaitonal connections that YAS has.

  • Two YAS members are currently sat on the Royal Society of Edinburgh International Committee.WEF
  • YAS member Luke Bisby was chosen as WEF 2013 Young Scientist and represented YAS at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2013 in Dalian, People's Republic of China (see presentatoin below about his experiences.


Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson - A Union Revived Speech Here 


Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, delivered the final speech of our series with the title, “A Union Revived”. Ms Davidson used her lecture to argue that the referendum debate provided an opportunity for Scots, and also those living elsewhere in these islands, to look again at what Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom gain from their 300-year old partnership.

Ms Davidson opened her speech by reflecting that David Hume’s call for scepticism and empiricism struck a chord with Conservative beliefs, but that they contrasted with the ‘razzle dazzle’ of the nationalist cause. This, she suggested, was a contrast all the stronger with the United Kingdom often unwilling to wear its patriotism on its sleeve.

However she maintained that, although it was perhaps more challenging to make the case for continuity as opposed to radical change, the Union was a magnificent thing.

To begin its defence, she tackled what she said were some of the myths that have been allowed to grow up around the Union, beginning with the caricature that suggests that to be in favour of a Union is to be somehow less than truly Scottish. There was no conflict, she suggested, in holding a loyalty to both Scotland and the UK as a whole, and in fact this dual identity allowed many Scots to celebrate the best of both worlds.

Ms Davidson argued too that partition would be a loss not only for Scotland, but also the rest of the United Kingdom. A Parliament without Scottish Members, such as Winston Churchill when he was the MP for Dundee, would be a poorer place, and she felt that it was sometimes the role of Scotland to keep the rest of our island on the right track. The ‘barbarians on the Thames’ benefitted from Scotland’s egalitarianism, intellectual seriousness, sense of realism, and sense of humour, and their loss would be to the detriment of all. This, she said, was the nature of a Union that was confident, altruistic and generous.

Next, Ms Davidson turned to what she said was the second myth, which was that Scotland was somehow not a full partner in the Union but rather a ‘surly lodger’. The Union was, she said, a benevolent, enduring and democratic friendship that any partner was free to leave whenever they chose, but with a reticence that meant this fact was something perhaps better understood in Catalonia than it was at home. Our guest therefore found it ironic that the Nationalists’ proposals would, in her words, leave Scotland looking more ‘like a Crown Dependency’ than either a full partner in the Union or an entirely independent and separate country.

The third myth Ms Davidson spoke of was that the Union was a drag on its constituent parts, claiming that the Coalition was committed to driving decision making closer to the people, both through devolution and through city deals. This was not, she said, a Union that ‘jealously clings power to its chest’, but rather a backup of sixty million people that supported each other if, in the worst of times, a bank with billions on its books were to go bust. It was rather something, like our currency, that we did not think about until we realised that it might be taken away.

Ms Davidson then turned to the questions posed by the Young Academy of Scotland in the open letter. Although she did not make reference to issue of enfranchisement of 16-17 year olds, an issue brought by the Scottish Youth Parliament, she did outline her vision of how the Union would support the economy. She said that Britain had taken some tough choices, but that the recovery was underway with some sources suggesting that the UK – the whole UK – could be the biggest economy in the European Union. She felt that this was not the time to change course, but rather a time to maintain stability and continue to work together with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ms Davidson told us that the SNP were, in fact, helping to make the case for Union by playing up Scotland’s currency and business strengths, underlining how it shared a time zone, a language and a regulatory system with London, and campaigning for ‘continued co-operation’ with the rest of the UK on the subject of research funding. She quoted Prof. Jim Gallacher in saying that there were three unions – the economic, social and political union – and it was impossible to ‘cut away the political union and hope to keep the others’. Pick’n’mix independence, she told us, would not work.

Finally, she turned to the impartial advice of the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, who has advised ‘strongly against a currency union as currently advocated, if Scotland were to vote for independence’. This was, she said, devastating to Mr Salmond’s attempts to de-risk independence.

However, she also said that she had hoped that the referendum would be an opportunity to vote not out of fear or negativity, but also out of hope for a brighter future for a renewed nation. In her closing responses to questions from the floor, she described her formative Service experience where she saw UK forces working together prevent a genocide in Kosovo and her family members’ experiences in Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool, three cities which she said could scarcely be more alike. However, this final point sat slightly at odds with her reticence to embrace the notion of being a ‘North Briton’. When responding to another question from the floor Davidson cited clear cultural differences north and south of Hadrians Wall, in particular the 'chippy confidences' of Scots cities as opposed to those of Northern England. The contradiction here was the only let up in an otherwise consistent argument and line of thought held during the evening.


 Twitter - #YASindyref

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Dr Theodore Koutmeridis is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow, where he co-ordinates the "Behaviour, Structure and Interventions" interdisciplinary research network. He holds a PhD in Economics from Warwick University where he was a Royal Economic Society Junior Fellow and an Onassis Scholar.

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