INDEPENDENCE could be worth between £15 million and £20m a year to the space sector in Scotland in the medium term and potentially £100m over a longer period, industry experts have said.
Dr Malcolm Macdonald, of the Strathclyde space institute at Strathclyde University, made the claim in a “politically neutral” report on the impact of independence on space travel.
The report – jointly written with Professor Lesley Jane Smith, a “space law” expert from Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany – suggested Scotland could gain access to millions of pounds from the European Space Agency (ESA), an inter-governmental body dedicated to space exploration.
The authors said: “Scottish independence could be said to be worth £15-20m per year to the sector in the medium term, and the long-term size and scale of the sector may be of the order of £100m, almost triple the current size.”
The figure is based on contracts the authors suggest an independent Scotland could win from the ESA, with the returns increasing as the country grows in influence.
However, the paper said the SNP government’s white paper was “unclear” about whether an independent Scotland would be a full member of the ESA or just participate in joint projects with the United Kingdom, which is part of the agency.
The white paper, the SNP’s blueprint for leaving the UK, talks about a plan for an independent Scotland to “maintain a common research area with the rest of the UK including existing shared research councils”.
It also states that an independent Scotland would continue to work “with the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency”.
Dr Macdonald and Prof Smith suggested the SNP’s stance meant that an independent Scotland could miss out on funds available to independent members of the ESA, such as Austria and Norway, if it was not a full member.
They said whether an independent Scotland received a financial boost for its space sector was “completely dependent on the relationship established between Scotland and the UK”.
The report said: “The proposed relationship between an independent Scotland and the UK Space Agency is unclear within the white paper.”
The paper went on to suggest that the SNP’s plans for informal co-operation with the remainder of the UK over space exploration could lead to legal complexities with the ESA.
“Seeking a continuing relationship would require agreement about delegation of ministerial power, sovereign funds and indemnity provisions in response to any government liability for damage”, it said.
Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said the report had exposed “a new weakness in the SNP government’s white paper”.
He added: “People are increasingly realising that the white paper is long on words but short on information.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman last night did not state whether an independent Scotland would apply to become a member of the ESA or have a shared arrangement with the remainder of the UK.
She said: “We welcome this report and its finding that independence could be worth £15m to £20m a year in the medium term and as much as £100m a year in the longer term to the space sector industry.
“Scotland’s Future [the white paper] makes clear that an independent Scotland will continue to work with the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.”