Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

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

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Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am saying that Scotland is open for business. I only wish that the Conservatives would say that, too.

I support the work that our universities and colleges are doing to reassure and support EU staff and their families as far as possible.

In addition to the effect on people who are already here, the Home Office’s current approach to visiting scientists and researchers has already been damaging to our reputation and to our ability to welcome experts from around the world. Numerous esteemed scientists who were due to attend and speak at the recent world congress of psychiatric genetics, which was held in Glasgow, were denied entry to Scotland due to visa delays and refusals. That is unacceptable, and the situation threatens to get worse if researchers from Europe are going to be treated by the UK Government with the same relentless hostility.

It has become increasingly clear that the UK Government will offer, at best, a hugely damaging blindfold Brexit that would still leave us guessing about the long-term future of our valuable European research collaborations, which the UK Government has made very little progress on securing.

International collaboration is critical to maintaining and strengthening Scotland’s excellence in research as well as to meeting our economic policy goals and improving public services in this country. We should not allow Brexit and the hostile immigration policies of the UK Government to constrain Scotland’s scientific and economic progress. We should ensure that Scotland continues to be an outward-looking, open and welcoming country.

Compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland employs proportionally more EU academic staff in our universities and institutions; we have proportionally more EU students; we have proportionally more outgoing domestic students participating in Erasmus+; we punch way above our weight in securing EU research funding; and we have a higher rate of research staff from the EU working in Scottish institutions.

Scotland voted to remain in the EU but is facing Brexit with our further and higher education and research sectors having the most to lose. Our voice therefore deserves to be heard and heeded. Maintaining single market membership with freedom of movement, including for students, staff and researchers, is more important to Scotland than it is to the UK as a whole. Maintaining participation in EU research programmes is more important to Scotland than it is to the UK as a whole. We must do all that we can to protect this vital national sector from Brexit and the reckless actions of the UK Tory Government. I commend the motion to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern the growing number of voices within Scotland’s research and science communities warning of the substantial threat that Brexit poses to Scotland’s position as a leading nation in international science and research; understands the significant economic, social and cultural contributions that universities and other research institutions and their international collaborators bring to Scotland; believes that the UK Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, including its commitment to ending freedom of movement, is undermining Scotland’s worldwide reputation and threatening the mobility of students and researchers and full participation in European research programmes, and commits to exploring options to safeguard Scotland’s international research collaborations and reputation for scientific excellence globally.