Research heavyweights break cover on Scottish independence

Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke warn that UK-split would damage research effort

July 7, 2014

The presidents of the Royal Society, British Academy and Academy of Medical Sciences have warned that Scottish independence would damage UK-wide research, and research in Scotland in particular.

In an open letter – the text of which appears below – Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke note that some involved in research “feel inhibited in expressing their views” on independence.

While Scottish vice-chancellors have remained noticeably silent on the issue, however, the trio make their own position clear, writing: “We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK would suffer. However, research in Scotland would be more vulnerable and there could be significant reductions in range, capability and critical mass.”

The intervention follows an open letter penned by nine former Scottish university principals last month, in which they warned that the risks of independence for higher education in Scotland would “considerably outweigh” any potential benefits.

Open letter - Scotland: Research and the UK Academies

The potential separation of Scotland from the rest of the UK is one of the most significant constitutional issues that we have faced in the last three centuries. It is a decision for those who live in Scotland, but their decision will have profound implications for the whole of the UK. In taking their decision, the people of Scotland will have many perspectives and criteria in mind.

As Presidents of UK-wide academies, we wish to draw attention to just one area which we regard as critical. That is research, in which Scotland punches well above its weight internationally. Many people involved in research in Scotland are concerned about this issue but some appear to feel inhibited in expressing their views.

Research requires resources, permeability, interactions, critical mass and a highly skilled workforce, to drive improvements in the quality of lives and a modern knowledge-based economy. Scotland has long done particularly well through its access to UK research funding. If it turns out that an independent Scotland has to form its own science and research budget, maintaining these levels of research spending would cost the Scottish tax payer significantly more.

Moreover, if Scotland is separated from the rest of the UK, the strong links and collaborations which exist in the current open system would be put at risk, with any new machinery put in place to attempt to restore them likely to be expensive and bureaucratic.

We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK would suffer. However, research in Scotland would be more vulnerable and there could be significant reductions in range, capability and critical mass.

We therefore call for a more open debate concerning these crucial issues. We have all gained much from integration and interaction in academic and research life, in which Scotland plays such a strong role.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Paul Nurse PRS FMedSci, President of the Royal Society
Lord Stern Kt PBA FRS, President of the British Academy
Sir John Tooke PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences

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