Yes vote will not threaten research funding says top scientific advisor

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
A Yes vote in September’s independence referendum will not affect scientific research in Scotland according to a top academic.
 
In an interview for Holyrood Magazine, Professor Anne Glover has said that research funding will follow excellence and that independence will make no difference when it comes to decisions on where to fund the research.

Recalling how in 2007, a study found Scotland was number one in terms of impact relative to GDP, Professor Glover said:

“On the 19th of September I don’t see that changing because if I am in China or in North America, I want to work with the best and if the best are in Scotland, I’m still going to work with the best.”

Professor Glover, who has been the Chief Scientific Advisor to outgoing EU President Jose Manuel Barroso and is neutral on the issue of independence, also highlighted European funding which she said a newly independent Scotland would be in a strong position to win.

The Horizon 2020 framework is distributing €80bn over the seven years from 2014 to 2020.  The funding is available to EU members and non-EU members alike.

“Access to that would be desirable and that can be achieved in a number of ways.” Glover says.

She adds: “It would be for scientists within Scotland to provide evidence and questions that need to be asked to be able to not just protect the current excellence of Scottish science because good science done in Scotland is of benefit to everyone in the world, not just Scotland.”

Professor Glover is the first Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Commission.  She provides expert advice on science, technology and innovation to policymakers and the Commission President.  From 2006 to 2011 she had been the Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland.

Professor Glover’s comments challenge claims made by a leading pro-Union scientist who has said a Yes vote will harm research funding.

Sir Paul Nurse made the claim in a letter to the Times newspaper.  The academic repeated the claim at a Better Together event where he appeared alongside former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

According to Nurse, a newly independent Scotland could find itself cut off from UK research funding.  The claims by Nurse were a repeat of an attack he made last month when he claimed a Yes vote would hit cancer research.

“This will be a major problem for Scotland and with progress in biomedical research, including the treatment of diseases such as cancer.” he said.

The claims by the scientist, who heads the Francis Crick Institute (formerly the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation), that a continuation of current funding would be “difficult to justify”, contradict comments made last year in which he argued that excellence was the main reason UK research 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.”

Sir Paul’s decision to mix politics and science are at odds with a statement given to the Independent newspaper where he said: “We should try to keep the science separate from the politics.  What you get with the polemicists and commentators is that they just mix it all up together,”

In the same interview, the scientist explained his view of science as an international activity.

“Science has always been an international endeavour, it’s a web of international connections.  Really vibrant societies have tended to be those that have opened their borders.”

The apparent contradiction between Sir Paul’s past views and the claims he now makes in relation to Scottish independence coincide with his recent links to the anti-independence campaign.

This weekend he gave a speech at a Better Together event in Edinburgh in which he repeated his anti-independence views.

Sir Paul’s views were widely reported in June when he initially stepped into the independence debate.  This weekend the scientist enjoyed similar widespread coverage when he repeated his claims.

[Newsnet comment – Sir Paul Nurse, as with anyone who expresses an opinion on the issue of Scottish independence, is entitled to his view.  However given that Sir Paul is now very closely linked to the anti-independence campaign, one has to wonder why – for the second time – he has enjoyed uncritical headline coverage in Scotland.

Sir Paul previously stated in 2013 that funding in the UK was made according to excellence, or to use his own words, was based on “best science wherever it may be”.

Despite this apparent contradiction, first revealed by Newsnet Scotland in June, not one media outlet or reporter has sought to question Sir Paul on this. 

BBC Scotland has been particularly guilty of refusing to scrutinise claims from high profile supporters of the No campaign but of headlining their views regardless.  Indeed the broadcaster gave Paul Nurse’s claims top spot online and repeated them in news bulletins throughout the day – something the pro-Union broadcaster will likely not repeat for Professor Glover.

In light of our ‘professional’ media’s reluctance to question Sir Paul Nurse, Newsnet Scotland has asked the scientist to confirm whether he believes the rest of the UK will abandon its current funding system and replace it with one based more on national borders.  We will report any response should we receive one.]