December 7th 2015 | Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh



Keith Aitken

Keith Aitken is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, and one of Scotland’s most experienced conference facilitators. His busy freelance business encompasses newspaper and magazine journalism, radio presenting, speech-writing, pod-casting, drafting corporate publications, and chairing all manner of public debates.

Since turning freelance in 1995, he has been a columnist for the Scotsman, the Herald and Scotland on Sunday. He currently writes a weekly column in the Scottish Daily Express, for which he also compiles a hugely popular weekly prize crossword. An accomplished author, he has contributed chapters on Scottish affairs to various books, and written a critically-acclaimed history of the STUC, The Bairns o’ Adam.

Prior to 1995, he spent 16 years at the Scotsman in a succession of senior editorial posts, including parliamentary correspondent, labour correspondent, industrial editor, economics editor, chief leader writer, and opinion editor. He is a graduate of Edinburgh University and a Trustee of the Scottish Mining Museum.


Deborah Benson

Deborah was the first woman to become an M.D. of a larger scale construction company in Scotland and the first female (and youngest ever) director at the Miller Group, providing some interesting anecdotes and rather unique experiences. Her passion is leadership for success in life and business. With over 20 years at senior management levels, primarily in the construction sector, complemented by an MBA and Doctorate in Business Leadership, she combines high level experience with academic theory - ideas with reality. She has held a number of non-executive directorships in both the third and commercial sectors and is currently involved in this capacity with the EDI Group, Scottish Canals and Edinburgh Women's Aid.

Deborah has also set-up, runs, advises and invests in start-ups in diverse sectors from property to farming, the environment to media on the internet. Her non-exec roles in 'not for profit' organisations focus on those that encourage youngsters, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds to experience the joy of achievement and gain a better understanding of the business world.

As a horse trainer and with a BSc in Environmental Science, the natural world is also employed to illuminate her talks, again bringing a unique perspective.

Don Ledingham

Don Ledingham is Chief Executive of Ceannas, the international leadership consultancy for chief executives and executive directors. 

Prior to joining Ceannas he was Director of Innovation Leadership with Drummond International.

Professor Ledingham’s long-term research has focused upon the leadership behaviours and cultures associated with high performing organisations. Emerging from this work he developed the Seven Sides of Educational leadership, which evolved into ‘The Ceannas Leadership Index®' to help chief executives identify and benefit from marginal leadership gains. He has practical leadership experience from a wide range of senior executive positions, including responsibilty for over 4,500 staff, a budget of £250 million, and a range of ‘high-stakes’ services as Scotland’s first executive director to simultaneously work across two local authorities.  

He was headteacher of Dunbar Grammar School, which was judged to be one of the ten most improved schools in Scotland during his headship. 

He is a non-executive Director and Depute Chair of the Scottish Book Trust. 

Colin Mair

Colin Mair is chief executive of the Improvement Service, a COSLA/SOLACE partnership set up support local government improvement across Scotland. The IS’ aim is to help councils and their partners improve the health, quality of life and opportunities of all people in Scotland through community leadership, strong local governance and the delivery of high quality, efficient local services.

Before joining the Improvement Service in 2004, Colin worked with Scottish councils as Director of the Scottish Local Authority Management Centre. Prior to that, he was Director of International Programmes at Strathclyde University where he worked on local government and public sector development in India, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe.

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant was appointed to act as Independent Chairman of the Company in September 2013. Ian was previously Chief Executive of SSE plc (formerly Scottish & Southern Energy plc), one of the UK’s leading utility companies and Scotland’s largest industrial company, for over ten years.

He stepped down from that position in the summer of 2013. While CEO of SSE, Ian had a number of roles on industry bodies including the Energy Research Partnership and Ofgem’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group. He also chaired the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the UK Government’s Engineering Construction Forum.

Before his appointment as CEO of SSE, Ian was Finance Director of both SSE and one of its predecessor companies, Southern Electric.

Ian is former Chairman of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group, and is currently President of the UK’s Energy Institute and Chairman of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. Ian has been the Chairman of the London-listed oil services company John Wood Group plc since May 2014.

He is also involved with some small Scottish businesses in the energy industry. Ian was also appointed as Non-Executive Director of Aggreko plc with effect from 1 November 2013. He qualified as an accountant after having graduated from Durham University with an Economics degree.

Jim Mather

Jim Mather was appointed Chair of Homes for Scotland (HFS) on a three year term on Friday 15 May 2015.

A Scottish Chartered Accountant by profession, Jim’s career has seen him work in accountancy, the whisky industry, sales and marketing and IT.

Becoming a list member of the Scottish Parliament in 2003, he was elected for a second time in 2007 as the constituency MSP for Argyll & Bute and was appointed Minister for Enterprise, Energy & Tourism in the minority SNP Administration of 2007–2011.

As well as being HFS Chair, Jim is a visiting professor at both Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt Universities.  He also fulfils other consultancy and non-executive roles.

In his inaugural HFS address to some 900 senior industry representatives and guests, Jim committed himself to help establish the urgent need for new homes of all tenures as an issue of national priority and to raise it to the top of the public policy debate.  He also  emphasised the need for the Scottish Government to work closely with the industry and other key stakeholders to avoid unintended negative consequences that could not only damage the industry’s ability to deliver much needed housing but also diminish the economic and social benefits that would otherwise accrue. 

Professor Petra Wend

Professor Petra Wend took up her post as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh at the beginning of September 2009, after an academic and management career at other UK universities. 

With a research background in institutional strategies underpinning successful leadership, improvements in student experience and university performance indicators, Professor Wend has a significant profile of academic publications and invited lectures. She holds a number of formal advisory roles on UK and international committees and boards. In 2008 she took part in Harvard Business School’s Women’s Leadership Forum, is a member of the Society of Renaissance Studies and became a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA) in 2009. In March 2015, she was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in recognition of her inspirational leadership in higher education.

She is also proud to have led the team which won the top award in the Outstanding Leadership and Management Team category of the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2012.

Professor Wend was asked by the Scottish Government to chair the National Implementation Board for Teaching Scotland’s Future, following the publication in November 2012 of the National Partnership Group report, which was set up by the Scottish Government to provide advice on how best to implement the Donaldson Review of teacher education. 

In April 2015, Petra was appointed by the Scottish Government as a member of the Commission for Widening Access chaired by Dame Ruth Silver. The Commission has been set up in light of the Scottish Government’s commitment to  improve access to educational opportunities for disadvantaged people and recognition that more work in widening participation is required.

Petra has been re-appointed Vice-Convener of Universities Scotland (the umbrella body for all Scottish universities) for a second 2 year term of office from 1 August 2014 – 31 July 2016, having chaired Universities Scotland’s Learning and Teaching Committee from 2010-12. She is a member of the Board of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAAHE) (UK) and the QAA’s Scotland Committee; the Edinburgh Business Forum and the Edinburgh Partnership Board. She is also a member of the British Council Scotland Advisory Committee; and a member of the Goodison Group Forum. She was also a member of the joint Government and Scottish Funding Council’s Skills Committee from 2010 – 2013. 

Prof James Mitchell

James completed his undergraduate degree at Aberdeen University and completed his doctoral thesis at Nuffield College, Oxford University.  He holds the Chair in Public Policy having previously held a Chair in Public Policy in the University of Sheffield (1998-2000) and a Chair in Politics in the University of Strathclyde (2000-2013).  He joined the School in April 2013.  His interests are primarily in territorial politics, public policy and government:

  • multi-level governance and the territorial dimensions of public policy;
  • regionalism and nationalism;
  • and political behaviour with special reference to sub-state levels of government.

His most recent book, 'The Scottish Question', was published in July 2014 and sets debates on Scotland's constitutional status into wider historical and public policy contexts and was completed while holding an ESRC Fellowship.  This book was amongst those listed by the Independent's Andy McSmith in his list of books of the year 2014.

He co-authored (with Chris Carman in Glasgow University and Rob Johns in Essex University) a study of the 2011 Scottish elections which was published in February 2014.

His primary interest currently is in public service reform following a period serving as a member of the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services.  He has been engaged in debates on public services, speaking at many conferences and events.  In addition, he completed a report, entitled 'People and Places', commissioned by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives in Scotland in 2014 and has recently been working with SOLACE on educational governance.

He is currently involved with What Works Scotland, an ESRC/Scottish Government sponsored collaborative venture to improve the way local areas in Scotland use evidence to make decisions about public service development and reform.

In addition, he is a Co-Investigator on the ESRC's Scottish Referendum Study (with Ailsa Henderson, Chris Carman and Robb Johns of the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Essex):

Paul Holland

Paul manages a Prevention Team at East Renfrewshire Council. The aim of the team is to work in collaboration to empower residents to avoid personal and financial harm...

“We focus our projects on providing practical solutions to the everyday problems our residents face such as nuisance calls, doorstep and mail scams. We place special emphasis on the groups facing the most challenging situations in their lives."

Martyn Blissitt

Martyn Blissitt qualified as a veterinary surgeon from Liverpool University in 1982 and completed a PhD at the RDVC, Edinburgh University in 1989. He worked in mixed veterinary practice in Somerset and Australia, and later for the “CIBA-Geigy” pharmaceutical company, conducting field trials on larval growth inhibitors. He joined the State Veterinary service in Taunton during the BSE crisis in 1990 and  moved to Ayr Animal Health Office in 1991. He was promoted to “Veterinary Adviser” to SEERAD in 1997. He is currently a Veterinary Adviser with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, responsible for Notifiable disease control and eradication in farmed livestock.

Murray Easton CBE

Murray Easton CBE is a Governor of the Health Foundation and, as a Chartered Engineer, is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. Having been Managing Director of the BAE Systems shipyards on the Clyde and in Barrow in Furness, and the Babcock dockyard in Rosyth, he has considerable experience in Shipbuilding and Ship Repair and is widely acknowledged as having led their transformation to prosperous businesses. Recently he has fulfilled a variety of key consultancy tasks in the private and public sectors.

Karyn McCluskey

Karyn has over 15 years experience working in intelligence analysis for police forces across the UK. She was head of intelligence analysis at West Mercia Police prior to joining Strathclyde Police eight years ago as Principal Analyst. During her time with Strathclyde she set up the force’s intelligence analysis function and was responsible for over 90 staff. Originally trained as a registered nurse, Karyn holds a BSc and MSc in Psychology and has published on violence reduction and the social structure of teams committing armed robbery. She has worked in the National Health Service and Her Majesty's Prisons, as well as in Africa. 

In 2009 she successfully completed the Strategic Command Course for senior leaders in the Police. She recently finished a year’s secondment to the Metropolitan Police, developing their violence plan and leading the Territorial Policing Change Programme. Karyn is an Honorary Lecturer in Medicine at the University of Glasgow and a Fellow by distinction of the Faculty of Public Health – an arm of the Royal College of Physicians. She was instrumental in helping to found Medics Against Violence, which aims to prevent violence related-injuries through education.