With the Scottish Independence referendum getting ever closer, it’s surely time to get away from the ‘braveheart’ posturing and consider some real issues, many of which have not been adequately addressed by the SNP in their independence campaign.
One such issue, close to my heart, is one of research funding in Scottish universities. In my field, solid state chemistry, there is much excellent research being done in universities such as St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. In many cases the research is world-leading; one example is the fuel cells work being done at St Andrews. This work is rightly funded by the EPSRC, a UK funding agency, and there are many other examples I could cite.
If there is a ‘yes’ vote in September, what will happen to the EPSRC funding of these excellent research groups, and more broadly, what will happen to the groups themselves? The EPSRC will obviously not fund research done in a foreign country, and the Scottish government seems highly unlikely to be able to make up for the lost funding. Recently the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee addressed this issue, as discussed here. The SNP seem to think that the status quo can continue, with the EPSRC assuming some kind of trans-national role. This is as ridiculous as their assumptions about keeping the pound, and joining the EU!
I fear that in these circumstances there is a real danger that the excellent research being done in these universities will suffer, and further, that the researchers themselves will leave for better funded locations. There will then be a knock-on effect on the universities themselves, since their current excellent research infrastructure has a positive effect on teaching, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to carry out research projects in these leading research groups. This may all be lost if Scotland becomes independent. These are worrying times for anyone who cares about the research being done, the people involved, and the future of the institutions themselves.