THE success of Scotland’s world-leading medical research sector has happened because the country is part of the UK, according to Better Together leader Alistair Darling.
The sector’s future prospects will be put at risk if Scotland leaves the UK, Mr Darling will say on a visit to Dundee’s college of life sciences today.
But nationalist academics say UK cuts to science funding, high student fees south of the border, tightening immigration which is deterring international researchers and the proposed referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) threatens research.
They have challenged the claim that UK funding will cease in Scotland, pointing to its existing international agreements with Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.
The life sciences work at the University of Dundee is ranked in the world’s top 100 and its biology and biochemistry research is ranked top in Europe.
Better Together said that this success “has been achieved because Scotland is part of the UK, not in spite of it”.
Mr Darling said: “We face a big decision in September and the choice is clear.
“We can build on the successes we have achieved in Scotland as part of the UK or we can put these at risk by taking a leap into the unknown with separation.
“Scotland’s medical research sector is one of these great modern-day success stories which have happened because we are part of the UK, not in spite of it.
“Life sciences research at the University of Dundee is at the centre of pioneering work that will improve lives here at home and across the world.
“The research carried out there is finding the cures of tomorrow, which will improve our NHS and sustains jobs across Scotland.
“Research in Scotland attracts over 13 per cent of total UK funding, even though we only make up around 8 per cent of the population.
“Our expertise and ingenuity attracts this investment, but it only does so because we are part of the UK.
“The experts are very clear - if we leave the UK then we would put this vital funding at risk.
“Our research sector proves that we can have the best of both worlds for Scotland.
“We can have decisions about Scottish education and research taken here in Scotland, and we can benefit from the greater investment that comes from being part of something bigger.
“Separation put that at risk, which is why we should say ‘No Thanks’ in September.”
Professor John Coggins, a founding member of Academics Together and former vice-principal of life sciences, clinical medicine and veterinary medicine at the University of Glasgow, said: “Research is the engine that drives improvements in health, in agriculture and in the development of sustainable technologies that will secure our future prosperity and quality of life.
“I have grave concerns that independence would jeopardise our present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical and life sciences research.
“Biomedical and life sciences research already provides thousands of high-tech jobs. It is now, and can undoubtedly remain, a cornerstone of the Scottish economy.
“Scotland’s undoubted excellence in these areas will be much better served by remaining within the UK research system.
“Leaving the UK means leaving a research system that ranks second only to the US in achievement and is the world leader in delivery per pound.”
Professor Bryan MacGregor, a spokesman for Academics for Yes, said: “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 research and development.
“The current Scottish Government is committed to proper funding of research and other benefactors will support quality research wherever it takes place. Charities already raise substantial funds in Scotland.
“On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of cuts in research and science funding, 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.
“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.
“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 not make any difference to such activities.”
SNP MSP Bob Doris, deputy convener of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, said: “The recent confirmation from Cancer Research UK that research in Scottish universities is an integral part of their activities - regardless if the referendum is Yes or No - knocks Alistair Darling’s scaremongering into touch.
“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.”