Greg Clark issues warning on Scottish independence

New science minister addresses upcoming referendum in one of his first speeches

July 28, 2014

Greg Clark, the new minister for universities and science, has used one of his first speeches in the position to warn Scottish researchers of the disadvantages of leaving the UK.

He said that a vote for independence in September “is a vote to leave the UK’s institutions, such as the research councils”.

The Scottish government has argued that maintaining a joint research councils system between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK would be in both countries’ interest.

But speaking on 24 July to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which was meeting at the University of Glasgow, Mr Clark countered: “There is no international precedent for sharing or replicating a system on the scale of the current UK funding streams across international borders.”

He argued, as others have done, that Scottish universities win a disproportionately large amount of funding from the UK’s research councils, compared to the size of the country’s population or economy.

Mr Clark added that the UK’s current research collaboration with the Republic of Ireland – held up by some as a model of how Scotland might continue its research links even if it left the UK – was “small scale”, with each country meeting the cost of its own research.

“Researchers from the Republic of Ireland have far more limited access to UK scientific infrastructure than researchers from Scotland and the rest of the UK,” he said.

“I hope many more of you will champion the integrated and thriving research base in Scotland and the rest of the UK,” Mr Clark told his audience. “It is clear this heavily integrated research framework would be at real risk in the event of Scottish independence.

“You can help inform voters how the interests of Scottish scientists and researchers – and resulting wider economic and societal benefits – are best served through Scotland remaining an integral part of the UK.”

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Reader's comments (4)

Can we please get away from this nonsense about research funding being in some way related to population and thus Scotland 'wins a disproportionately large amount....'. The Minister refers to the fact that Scotland with ~8% of the UK population gets ~11.4 - 13% of the funding from RCUK (2013 figures; can vary slightly depending on which numbers you use). In 2013 Oxford (pop 150,200) and Cambridge (pop 123,900) won 33% of the RCUK funding with only 0.4% of the UK population. Oxford alone attracted £436.8 million. Scotland (all of it) attracted £356.3million. Research funding is secured, hopefully, on merit and has nothing to do with population. This is just political spin and the minister, I am sure, will be perfectly aware of that.
Craig - I don't think anyone is suggesting that research funding is secured on anything but merit. That's exactly why Scottish universities secure more than if it was allocated just on a per capita basis. The minister's argument, rightly or wrongly, is that if Scotland went independent, and spent the same proportion of funds as the UK currently does on research council grants, it wouldn't get as much as it does now. To put the argument another way, if Oxford or Cambridge became independent city states and had to fund their own research, they would only be able to afford a fraction of what their universities win within the current system.
David - I would agree that nobody in academia buys the population argument. However, this is not this first politician to spin the numbers in this way and use them as part of the tedious 'broad shouldered, family of nations that pools and shares' rhetoric. Pooling and sharing certainly works for Oxford, Cambridge and London. I'm not convinced that Scotland gets such a brilliant deal, particularly if you consider the BERD figures. Academics for Yes have done a lot of research on this. It would be worth giving them the opportunity to respond. (I'm not part of their organization). I think a new research model could work in Scotland. I'd like to hear views on that. Let's keep the debate going once all the politicians have switched off on Sept 19th.
The rhetoric is no more tedious than anything the Yes campaign are saying. They promise 'jam tomorrow' and try to convey the message that something entirely new must inherently be better. It's the most hackneyed message going. In my experience, when you already have a successful system, to all intents and purposes, you improve rather than dismantle it. It may be less marketable as a campaign message but it's certainly no less worthy. Needless to say, the Scottish 'raw deal' rhetoric is the most boring and annoying of all, and I say that as a proud Scot.

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