IT has been a week to be Arlene Foster, not Edwin Poots, to be an Australian cattle rancher, not a Scottish sheep farmer and to be Ed Davey, not Keir Starmer – although to be fair about that one, “spectacular” LibDem by-election victories are like those plants that flower only once a decade ... they attract a lot of noisy attention for a brief moment but decay back to nothing very quickly.

It is not difficult in Scotland today to find reasons to be both annoyed and anxious but it is also necessary to try to find reasons to be cheerful and one of them came my way yesterday, by dint of an invitation from the Scottish Association for Marine Science. SAMS, as it is known, is the UK’s oldest independent marine science organisation and traces its roots back to the work of the pioneer oceanographer Sir John Murray in the last decades of the 19th century Now part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, it works in collaboration with other marine science bodies world wide and is a key member of the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (Masts), the very effective Scottish higher education pool for marine science research.

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Because it is based at Dunstaffnage just outside Oban I was its local MSP for 10 years, sometimes working to help it in difficult times but also celebrating the good things it none the less went on achieving.

The event this week was to highlight the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development which was formally launched earlier this month, although it has been in the planning since it was agreed by the UN in 2017. It is easy to be cynical about grand-sounding international projects that rarely touch our individual lives.

I suspect not one in 10,000 people in Scotland knows that we are currently living through not only the UN Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures but also the Decade of Sustainable Energy, while we have just emerged from the Decade of Deserts. Nonetheless, Scotland should take this Ocean Science Decade very seriously not only because we are a maritime nation, with a huge area of sea around us, but also because it presents three very valuable opportunities.

The first is the obvious one in terms of public awareness and action. Our oceans are immensely important and their progressive degradation poses a major threat to our collective future. We must – as rapidly as we can – learn much more about how to heal them and keep them healthy. And not just learn. We must act upon the science that is presented to us as the decade intensifies and builds upon the excellent work already being done in Scotland, which is a marine science leader.

The second opportunity flows from that fact. Brexit is steadily cutting us off from the mainstream of scientific research and intellectual exchange. Our academic institutions need to row rapidly and determinedly in the opposite direction if they are to retain their excellence and reach, putting new effort into valuing and indeed enhancing all the links they have outwith Scotland.

This international decade opens up new possibilities for working on an equal basis with others in Europe and across the globe and we should seize it with both hands. Scotland, presently denied the formal legal status of a nation, has to be imaginative in its use of soft diplomacy to spread the message about our present activities and future intentions. Our universities and their research excellence are key elements in that process, not least because they already have positive worldwide reputation and recognition.

The third area where we can benefit from the decade lies much closer to home but is equally crucial. The conflict between those who work and earn their living by and on the seas around our shores, and environmental activists who seek greater protection and conservation of those same resources, is still alas much in evidence and deeply damaging to the prospects of success in the goal they share – a revival of the richness of our surrounding waters. Many, including me, have tried over the years to find ways of bridging that gap, recognising the profound and deep knowledge of the marine environment that exists in fishing communities (with people such as, for example, Tarbert’s Kenny MacNab ,a mainstay of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association ) but also the genuine urgency and drive of those environmentalists whose passion is to see our seas recover their former diversity and beauty.

Bringing those people together in joint action would produce something more than the sum of its parts but all too often the formal structures and necessary bureaucracies get in the way and allow suspicion, accusations of favouritism and allegations of bad faith to flourish.

We need to recognise that dictating to people who usually know the seas better than we ever will how they must live their lives and earn their keep is not a sensible nor ultimately successful thing to do. However, we also need to persuade those same people that the science is unequivocal in pointing to the urgent need for changes in practice given the global crisis we are facing.

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Perhaps the decade can help to resolve this issue, too, and find a way forward, by ensuring that genuine consultation, co-decision-making, and participative democracy, not professional diktat, are essential, not optional, as we plan to apply the outcomes of existing and developing scientific work.

“Impact”, that much debated word in academic circles needs to be defined by involvement and interpretation as well. The UN Decade has as its slogan: “The science we need for the ocean we want.” It is emblazoned on the front of a very impressive UN brochure but the definition of “we” within the text is still too narrow. “We” isn’t just scientists or environmentalists or politicians or civil servants. “We” has to be all of us for the job of healing our environment is the most urgent imperative for every person on the planet.