Yes campaigners today warmly welcomed the support of Sir Michael Atiyah, one of Britain’s most distinguished academics, who will be voting Yes in September’s independence referendum.
Sir Michael, the only scientist to ever have been president of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society in London, says he wants an independent Scotland primarily because he opposes nuclear weapons.
The Scottish Government is committed to having Trident removed from Scotland as soon as practically and safely possible.
The scientist was scathing of the Trident nuclear submarines, based at Faslane on the Clyde, describing them as: “conspicuous, useless, immoral and expensive symbols of Westminster’s hankering for imperial grandeur”.
Sir Michael, one of the country’s greatest living mathematicians, also dismissed claims by No – supporting academics that a Yes vote will risk university research funding.
He suggested interventions from outside Scotland could boost support for Yes, adding: “The Scots don’t like being told what to do,” he says. “If people tell them they will be worse off, it can tip the balance the other way.”
Writing for The Times, Sir Michael said Scotland enjoys closer links with Europe than the rest of the UK and believes independence is the best way to achieve a fairer society.
Sir Michael’s views on research funding echo those of Academics for Yes whose letter in The Times earlier this week pointed out that independence would allow Scotland to develop its own brand and attract international students.
Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins said: “To have the support of an academic so distinguished and learned as Sir Michael is a major boost for the Yes movement. His opposition to having the biggest nuclear arsenal of weapons on Scottish soil, let alone only 30 years miles from our biggest city, chimes with the views of hundreds of thousands of Scots.
“His belief, too, that Scotland’s universities will continue to flourish with independence is also an important and welcome intervention.”
Dr Stephen Watson, chair of Academics for Yes, said: “Sir Michael is one of the UK’s and world’s most distinguished academics, and we are delighted that he has endorsed the very firm and sensible view that collaborative research should, can and will be maintained after a Yes vote.
“The simple truth is that Scotland does well in open competition for funds but poorly where funds are allocated by other means, such as for research council centres and private R&D. The Scottish Government is committed to proper funding of research and other benefactors will support quality research wherever it takes place.
“On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of real-term cuts in the science budget, high student fees with unsustainable loan funding, an immigration policy that is preventing and deterring international student recruitment and the possibility of an exit from the EU and its research funding.
“And, on the other, we have a Scottish Government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students. Independence will protect Scotland’s universities and allow appropriate research priorities to be determined.
“People may be unaware of the existing scope of international collaboration in the funding of research, not least between the UK and Ireland which have a number of agreements through the research councils, as does the UK and several other countries.
“And other countries do likewise. The European Research Council allocates billions of Euros according to quality of the research, and there are international collaborations such as CERN. Scottish independence will offer potentially even greater scope for such activities.”