By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by a leading cancer specialist that an independent Scotland would find it “difficult to justify” funding from the rest of the UK for cancer research, have been undermined after comments he made over a year ago appeared to contradict the view.
Sir Paul Nurse, who heads the Francis Crick Institute, said the “wonderfully-innovative biomedical teams” working in Scotland rely on funds from across the UK which he claimed could dry up in the event of a Yes vote.
Sir Paul, 65, said: “Scotland, with wonderfully-innovative biomedical teams engaged in path-breaking research, relies on money that comes from UK organisations such as the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.
“My fear is that it will be difficult to justify using their money for research in an independent Scotland.
“This will be a major problem for Scotland and with progress in biomedical research, including the treatment of diseases such as cancer.”
However the claim that a continuation of current funding would be “difficult to justify”, contradict comments made last year in which the scientist argued that excellence in UK research was the main reason it attracted so much funding from across Europe.
Writing in January 2013, Sir Paul said: “In the current EU research framework programme the UK is the second largest recipient of funding. In the five years since 2007 our scientists in businesses, universities and elsewhere are estimated to have received around £3.7bn from Europe.
He added: “Our strong position is based on the excellence of our science base. As with our own funding system, the EU invests in the best science wherever it may be, and because the UK is good at science we generally do well in the funding competitions.”
Speaking in 2009, Sir Paul also highlighted the growing opportunity for ‘English Universities’ to cooperate with their American counterparts in order to benefit from increased funding, an opinion that was shared by the then Labour Cabinet Minister John Denham.
Despite the contradiction, Sir Paul’s attack on independence has been seized on by leading figures in the campaign against independence.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, responding to Sir Paul’s comments said: “Scotland could find itself outside the loop, cut off not just from UK funding of Scottish research but from UK-wide collaborative projects and consequently far less able to play what most Scottish people will want: the fullest part possible in the biggest push Europe has yet seen to find better ways of treating and curing diseases such as cancer,”
The Labour MP has asked the academic to deliver a speech in Scotland next month on the implications of a Yes vote on research funding.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government dismissed the latest scare, and said: “Scotland has world class universities producing ground-breaking research, and that will continue in an independent Scotland.
“The UK currently operates as a ‘common research area.’ It is clearly in the interest of both Scotland and the rest of the UK to maintain this with independence – something in line with current international practice which sees extensive cross-border co-operation on research funding.”
The Scottish Government’s stance appeared to received backing from Cancer Research UK’s affairs manager for Scotland Gregor McNie.
Commenting on claims a Yes vote would threaten funding, he said:
“Like any other organisation we are constantly looking out for and assessing potential changes to our operating environment, and then planning accordingly.
“Scottish independence is one of many such issues we give consideration to. As an organisation that actively maintains political neutrality, we will not be taking any position with regard to the referendum, which is a matter solely for the people of Scotland to decide upon.
“As we fund research in a number of Scottish Universities and there is an enormous amount of public support for our work, Scotland is an integral part of our charitable activities. It is in everyone’s interest to see this research continue, regardless of the referendum outcome. Decisions around cancer care in Scotland are largely taken in Scotland. We currently work closely with the Scottish Government on these.”
Welcoming confirmation from Cancer Research UK today (Sunday) that it was “in everyone’s interests” for their research in Scotland to continue “regardless of the referendum outcome”, Bob Doris, SNP MSP who is also Deputy Convener of the Health and Sport Committee, said:
“This is a welcome confirmation from Cancer Research UK that – as we all know – research in Scottish universities is an integral part of their activities, regardless if whether the referendum is Yes or No.
“Scotland has more top universities per head than any other nation on earth, and their international position will only be reinforced and their status enhanced when Scotland becomes independent.
“Already several bilateral arrangements exist between the UK and the Republic of Ireland; joint funding arrangements between the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences and an agreement giving the universities of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast access to the Republic’s scientific research funding scheme work very well.
“As education is already devolved in Scotland it stands to reason that an independent Scotland would continue with its co-operative relationship with the rest of the UK as it would be in everyone’s best interests – on both sides of the border.
“You might have hoped that the No campaign would have stopped their incessant scaremongering after falling foul of Great Ormond Street hospital with their false threats to the families of sick children – but they clearly have not learnt their lesson.”