Science academics back Better Together campaign

SCOTTISH independence could jeopardise scientific breakthroughs and curtail the careers of young scientists, according to a bacteriologist who is spearheading a group of academics who will campaign to keep the UK together.

Professor Hugh Pennington wants to keep the 'free flow of ideas.' Picture: PA

Academics Together, a new arm of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, will be launched with a speech by Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University.

He will hail the UK’s “large, highly integrated, internationally renowned UK research base” and Better Together chief Alistair Darling will point out the “disproportionately high share of UK research funding” Scottish facilities receive for a country with less than a tenth of the UK’s population.

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Speaking ahead of the launch in Glasgow, Prof Pennington said: “I would hate to see our world-leading reputation for innovation and discovery put at risk. I would hate to see the next big breakthrough jeopardised or see the chances of a young researcher curtailed.

“The absence of barriers allows not just funding and people, but ideas and innovation, to flow freely across borders.

“I don’t want to put the success of Scotland’s world-leading research at risk.”

Prof Pennington added: “I believe the best way to build on that success is to continue working together as part of the UK. That is why I have joined Academics Together – to make the strong, positive case for Scotland remaining in the UK.”

Mr Darling is to visit the British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow before the launch to highlight what he sees as one of the benefits of Scotland being part of the UK.

Mr Darling said: “Research facilities and universities in Scotland get a disproportionately high share of UK research funding.

“We make up around 8 per cent of the UK population but get over 13 per cent of UK research funding in return. That is a clear, positive benefit of being part of the UK.

“The only thing putting Scotland’s world leading research reputation at risk is Alex Salmond’s obsession with independence.

“The Nationalists claim that nothing will change if we go it alone, but can’t back it up with any evidence.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland has an unrivalled record of success in attracting research funding, reflecting the excellence and global reputation of our universities, and that will continue with independence.

“We have more world-class universities per head of population than any other country, and a number of our universities have risen up the international ranking this year – showing the strength of the sector.

“Our commitment to support our universities and to recognise the full impact of their research is widely acknowledged by the sector.”

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “Academics from both sides of the argument have an important contribution to make to the independence debate. Many see the advantages of a Yes vote for Scotland and their particular sector.

“It should be remembered that the university sector didn’t want to be devolved in 1979, but had changed its stance by the 1997 referendum.

“There is no doubt that deciding higher education policy in Scotland rather than at Westminster has been of huge benefit to our universities, students and academics and that will continue with independence.

“Scotland has an unmatched record of attracting research funding and we have more internationally-renowned universities for our population than any other country in the world.”