By Alexandra Kelso
On 14 January 2016, a debate was held on UK space policy in the House of Commons, timed to coincide with a spacewalk undertaken by British astronaut Major Tim Peake as part of his mission to the International Space Station (ISS). UK participation in ISS activities marked the culmination of a significant reorientation of government space policy in recent years, and so it is unsurprising that MPs might have something to say about it, and want to take the opportunity to applaud a significant ‘national moment’. The debate attracted media attention, partly due to its coinciding with the Peake spacewalk, and also because of the message of goodwill sent to MPs by William Shatner, who expressed the hope that MPs would, in debating space, ‘take the tenets of Star Trek’s prime directive to universally and peacefully share in the exploration of it’. An MP performing a Vulcan salute during her contribution also helped on the publicity front. It was clearly a novel policy issue for MPs, and one that the Commons hadn’t properly debated in a decade or so. What was most surprising, however, and which drew me to research this issue, was that the debate was moved by an MP from the Scottish National Party (SNP). What, I wondered, were the SNP doing using up their precious parliamentary time for a debate on a topic as unlikely as UK space policy? In my recent paper in the journal Space Policy, I analyse the parliamentary debate in order to solve this puzzle. The paper identifies a number of themes underpinning the debate, but here I focus only on the question that sparked my interest in the first place: why were the SNP getting involved in this incredibly narrow policy issue, which seemed like an unlikely vehicle through which to advance their political objectives?