Both the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties are passionate advocates of action against climate change, writes Martin Robbins, but other areas of their science policies are sketchy
Read Plaid Cymru's responses in full here
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 4 May 2010 17.53 BST
So far I've covered the major UK parties, but in Scotland and Wales elections are contested between a different set of players, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru representing nationalist voters in their respective countries. Discussion of these parties' policies is often centred around devolution, but how do they perform on science?
I also take a brief look at the BNP and the Christian Party towards the end of this article.
Plaid Cymru's manifesto shows a business-minded attitude to science and technology, with pledges to upgrade Wales' IT infrastructure. On the environment it calls for nothing less than a 'green revolution', emphasising job creation and initiatives that enable communities to take part in projects suchs as small-scale energy production and community-based farming. Some leaders promise a Ferrari in every garage, Plaid Cymru promises a goat – and I highlight that as a compliment, although given the lack of efficiency of small farms I'm not sure how viable a strategy they are for curbing emissions.
The SNP makes little mention of science in its manifesto, but has some interesting ideas on the environment, including a focus on preserving marine ecosystems, and an initiative to become a world leader in carbon storage. Unfortunately, the SNP did not respond to our questions, so where possible its views have been inferred from its manifesto, website and policy statements.
Brian Cox: Science funding
Do you plan to maintain Britain's science budget below the European average?
Plaid Cymru's response continues the business-oriented theme evident in its manifesto, bringing the party surprisingly close to the Conservative and Labour positions, which seem to view science as primarily a tool for innovation in the economy. It's difficult to tell whether the lack of blue-sky thinking has ideological roots, or if it's simply the consequence of dealing with the needs of a much smaller nation with fewer resources to speculate with. The creation of a national academy is an interesting but slightly vague proposal.
The centrepiece of the SNP's campaign is a pledge to protect Scotland from cuts to public services, including an attack on wasteful schemes such as ID cards. Having preserved Scotland's budget, it would then invest considerably in research, with the ambitious aim of creating 60,000 green jobs.
If the balance of evidence suggests that a treatment does not perform any better than placebo, should it be supported by the NHS?
The SNP supported patient access to alternative medicine in its 2007 manifesto. I couldn't find any similar mention in the 2010 campaign, so it's unclear whether the party still supports it. Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, has no specific policies on alternative medicine.
Simon Singh: Libel
What will your party do to reduce the chilling effect of our libel laws on science?
Plaid Cymru has joined the cross-party consensus on the need to change libel laws. The Libel Reform campaign is focused on laws that apply in England and Wales, and so the question is less relevant to the SNP.
Should nuclear power be part of our country's strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? How soon can we bring new plants online?
Both Plaid Cymru and the SNP are passionate advocates of action against climate change, and both adopt a range of very similar policies in this area, rejecting the need for nuclear power stations in their countries, preferring to draw on their natural resources to develop renewable energy supplies. Plaid Cymru's objection to nuclear appears slightly more ideological, whereas the SNP points to a lack of any need for it for the relatively small Scottish population.
Both parties put a lot of faith in the potential of a green revolution to create jobs, with the SNP aiming for 60,000 new jobs, and Plaid Cymru planning a massive expansion of the renewable energy industry. The differences lie in the details, with the Scottish exploring the possibility of becoming a world-leading carbon importer, and the Welsh seeking to construct local, sustainable communities self-reliant in energy where possible.
How feasible these plans are given the investment available is unclear, and it's interesting that the SNP's policies seem more centralised than the local initiatives outlined by Plaid Cymru. But clearly both parties have a very passionate commitment to this area.
David Nutt: Drug policy
To what extent should drug policy be based on scientific evidence? What evidence, if any, would you require to declassify a drug?
"We believe drug policy should be entirely based on scientific evidence."
It's a bold and welcome statement. Plaid Cymru also clearly sees drug harm as a public health issue rather than a criminal problem, with the party's policies focusing on rehabilitation and education. Its call for "a public debate over drugs laws" is admirable, but given the poor state of media reporting on the issue it would probably backfire. Notably, Plaid is the first party responding to these questions to explicitly state that it would decriminalise a drug – cannabis.
The SNP adopts a similar public health focus, with an emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation. However, the rhetoric on its website still falls into the trap of suggesting that drug use is automatically a problem.
The BNP bravely joins Ukip in the fight against the fight against climate change, although it does still take environmental protection and green belts seriously. There appears to be a lack of understanding when it comes to climate change, which the party believes to be a theory "which holds that all western nations need to be stripped of their manufacturing base and pay untold billions to the Third World to build up their industries".
Its ideal of libel reform also bucks the trend, with plans to introduce laws which "will hold journalists and their media outlets criminally liable for knowingly publishing falsehoods".
From the desk of the party's sci-fi spokesman we have uncosted proposals for a 200mph intercity maglev network. Under the BNP, soil would be "reinvigorated", GM produce would be banned, and the family farm would become the basic unit of British agriculture. If you want to keep reading the 84 pages I couldn't be bothered to look at, be my guest.
The Christian Party has an innovative approach to policy-making that can be summed up as "what does the Bible say?" This is taken to such extremes that all taxes – VAT, income tax, corporation tax, and so on – would be set at 20%, apparently because this is what the pharaohs of Egypt were told to set their taxes at in Genesis.
Abortion is obviously a big fat no, while the party adopts a zero-tolerance policy on drug abuse (though not, presumably, on the drug that is in Communion wine). Having teased the Jeremy Clarkson vote with promises of raising the speed limit to 90mph, the Christian Party brushes it aside with a surprising focus on the environment.
In terms of education, under the Christian Party children would be taught chastity until marriage, and creationism would be restored to its rightful place in the national curriculum. If that all sounds good to you, then you're probably reading the wrong column. Shoo!
The less said about the BNP and the Christian Party, the better. One MP from either party would be one too many, and many of their policies fall foul of Poe's Law – so absurd as to be indistinguishable from parody.
For Plaid Cymru and the SNP the results are mixed, as you would expect from smaller parties. It's hard not to admire both for their commitment to environmental issues, an area in which they provide glimpses of the sort of thinking that English greens might achieve if they were more willing to engage with real science. That said, while their plans are ambitious, it's difficult to assess how feasible they might be.
Both parties take a very practical view of science funding, placing it at the heart of their economic plans, something on which your mileage may vary.
Where the regional parties falter is in fringe areas – neither party seems particularly strong on alternative medicine, and little thought has been given to areas like stem cell research or GM crops. Plaid Cymru has an excellent policy on drugs, while the SNP doesn't seem to go far enough, and doesn't appear to quite grasp the root causes of the problems it wants to tackle.
In summary, while I wouldn't rush out to cast my vote for these parties on the basis of their science policies, I don't see many problems here either.