Leaders: Research cash is far from academic

Scotland won more than 13 per cent of the UK Research Council's available funding. Picture: PA
Scotland won more than 13 per cent of the UK Research Council's available funding. Picture: PA
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IT WAS with no small fanfare earlier this year that the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign announced the formation of the Academics for Yes group.

It is easy to see why. Under fire over the details of its proposal to break up the United Kingdom, Yes Scotland could now point to the support of a group of eminent thinkers, men and women whose lives are dedicated to the analysis of facts.

But Academics for Yes’s role stretches far beyond that of participation in a mere public relations exercise. The group has a key campaigning job too. Its members are charged with undermining No campaign claims that an independent Scotland would struggle to achieve the levels of investment in research that it currently enjoys.

Just a few weeks ago, Academics for Yes argued that, after independence, Scotland and the remainder of the UK would sign up to a shared Research Councils’ budget. In support of the likelihood of this outcome, the group offered the example of the existing European Research Council. If researchers across the continent could happily share budgets, they asked, then why couldn’t those on this island do the same?

Furthermore, they argued, research funding was currently under threat in England and so independence was the best solution. The apparent contradiction – that Scotland would do best to share funding with a country the Yes campaign warns is cutting budgets – remains unexplained.

There are other issues with Academics for Yes’s position, not least its rather vague assertion that “with an appropriate immigration policy” Scotland will create its own brand to “develop opportunities in research”. Even the stuffiest of professors are not immune to flights of ideological optimism.

Today, a group of 14 academics working in life sciences claims that Scotland’s research funding would be best protected by a No vote in September. The group point out that in 2012-13, Scotland won more than 13 per cent of the UK Research Council’s available funding, despite having just 8.4 of the UK’s population.

In an open letter, the academics argue that the creation of a Scottish Research Council would mean an end to a current system which sees Scotland get more out than it puts in.

As well as raising concerns about funding, the academics say it is “ironic” that the Scottish Government is able to speak freely on this issue while the heads of leading research universities feel obliged to remain neutral because they receive public money. This “neutrality”, they say, should not be interpreted as proof of tacit support for independence.

Yes Scotland was particularly enthusiastic about the formation of a pro-independence group of academics. Their words carry weight. They are not easily dismissed. The same must be said of those No-supporting researchers who have raised concerns about post-Yes funding cuts.

Fishermen’s rescue brings joy to all

SCOTLAND has been telling stories of missing fishermen for centuries. And these tales rarely end well.

Fishing is a dangerous job. That some of those who take to the seas never make it home is hardly a surprise.

So what joy, then, at the news that two men feared lost off the Aberdeenshire coast are today safe and well and back home with their family.

When Jim Reid and his grandson David Irvine failed to return to shore on Tuesday, it seemed as though yet another tragedy was about to unfold.

With heavy hearts, the authorities announced on Wednesday that the large-scale search would be called off. There were not even to be any bodies for the mourners to bury.

After their compass failed, the two men had drifted through fog and ended up spending two nights at the mercy of the elements. All they had to sustain themselves were two biscuits, a bottle of water, a flask of tea and a great deal of hope.

Every generation in Scotland’s fishing communities lives through tragedy, coping with men lost and families bereft. Mr Reid and Mr Irvine were truly lucky not to be at the heart of yet another devastating loss.

As they drifted further out to sea, their boat became an ever smaller needle in an ever-growing haystack. With so little food and no way of navigating, their chances of survival had all but evaporated.

But just as hope fizzled out, they were discovered by the crew of another fishing boat, the Sylvia Bowers.

Here’s luck to all involved in this rescue – and to all those others who risk everything to make a living at sea.