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Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2018.

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Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

It is difficult to quantify exactly the impact of Brexit on scientific research in Scotland for a number of reasons. First, reports tend to concentrate on UK data, although we know that Scottish universities punch well above their weight, given our nation’s size and population, in succeeding in garnering EU funding from horizon 2020, and they have been significant partners in EU collaborative research programmes, particularly in life sciences. Also, we still do not know what kind of Brexit we are looking at, so we cannot quantify the effects of whatever migration and visa systems will be in place or what our customs arrangements will be.

Until we have answers to all those questions, the level of damage to Scottish scientific research is difficult to quantify, and being unrelentingly, blindly positive about things is quite offensive to academics who have warned of that damage, such as those whom Tavish Scott spoke about.

Let us look at what we do know: that €2 billion of the €4.8 billion that the United Kingdom has won from horizon 2020 since 2014 has gone to science; and that Scottish organisations have secured about €530 million of the funding from horizon 2020, of which three quarters has gone to our universities. Let me take one area of vital research. I went on to the Scottish EU funding portal and put in a search for “low carbon” to see what would come up. From that one narrow search, I found that 157 current projects are funded by the EU. Every member here will know that Scotland is committed to being a leader in reducing the causes of climate change. We have to decarbonise and be at the forefront of renewable energy and agricultural and transport innovation if we are going to achieve that and have an economy that thrives as a result of the innovation that is based here.

EU funding and collaboration are the bedrock of that innovation. Because of the lack of a deal with the EU, we do not know if we can expect to be a non-EU partner in framework 9, which is the successor to horizon 2020. That door is open to us, in the same way as it is open to Norway, Iceland and others that are not in the EU, if the UK Government negotiates access to it. I say to Mr Mundell that that is in the national interest, yet I have not heard anything from the Conservative side of the chamber about the UK looking at anything past 2020.