Science in Scotland after the referendum

5 Dec 2012

With the referendum on Scottish Independence coming up in 2014, Science and the Parliament set out to look at the implications for science. It took place on 14 November 2012 at Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh. Scotland has had a tremendous track record for innovation since the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Scottish universities are among some of the best in the world and Scotland is third for the number of peer review papers published per capita. Will Scotland be able to continue to punch above its weight, with or without devolution?

A Question Time entitled Innovation Scotland was attended by politicians representing the main political parties, four MSPs Willie Rennie (Lib Dem), Chic Brodie (SNP), John Park (Lab), Patrick Harvie (Green) and Edinburgh councillor Joanna Mowat (Con). Questions from the floor covered subjects such as: should there be more PhD students? the high number of female graduates who leave science, and should school pupils be taught how to handle finances?

A debate on Science and the Constitution was chaired by Ken MacDonald (BBC Scotland's Science Correspondent) with Professor Stephan Salter and Stewart Stevenson MSP in favour of Independence. Against were Professor Sir Hugh Pennington and Dr Richard Simpson MSP. While Scotland accounts for only 8.4% of the UK population, it currently receives 13% of research funding, so much of the debate centred on whether an independent Scotland could continue this level of finance.

The 'against' argument was summed up with 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. The 'for' independence campaign naturally believes the union is not in the best interest for Scotland. Whatever the outcome of the vote, two points were taken as read. Firstly Scotland needs top quality scientists. And as though to get the message across, a number of pupils were presented with awards by RSC President, Professor Lesley Yellowlees, for outstanding results in this year's SQA examinations.

Secondly those with an innovative idea need assistance when setting up a company to market their products. Most of the 340,000 private sector businesses in Scotland are classified as SMEs. Eleanor Mitchell of Scottish Enterprise, Olga Kozlova (Heriot Watt University) and Ian Ritchie (RSE Vice President for Business) outlined how their companies can help a new business get started.

An evening reception and exhibition rounded off the event in the traditional manner. Russell Howe, Dick Bond and Tom Clarkson looked after a stand to showcase the Scotland Group.

Tom Clarkson
Scotland Group Secretary

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