Safeguarding Research Collaborations and Scientific Excellence

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

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Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

This afternoon, as expected, we have heard many examples of Scotland’s success in scientific research and of our universities’ excellence. Indeed, Dr Claire Baker, with her stellar qualifications, demonstrated how she epitomises that excellence. She pointed out an important European project that is sometimes missed in these debates, which is Erasmus+. Other members have mentioned its importance. Ross Greer made it clear that colleges, as well as universities, participate in Europe-wide collaborations, and Gil Paterson made an important point about how such institutions as the Golden Jubilee hospital engage in international collaborative cutting-edge research. This debate is not just about our universities; it is much wider than that.

At one stage, we had quite an entertaining diversion into a debate about obsession. Mr Mundell posited Mr Scott’s obsession with a people’s vote and Mr Scott responded by pointing out the obsession of Jacob Rees-Mogg and other colleagues with Brexit. I spoke about social scientists as well as scientists, because one of our great social scientists was, of course, Adam Smith. He once said:

“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition”.

I hope that it is true that science can be part of the antidote to the rather poisonous enthusiasm for Brexit of the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson or to the superstition in the highly dubious claims that they and some of their colleagues have made about the benefits, which Maureen Watt spoke about.

Therein lies the problem with the Tories’ contributions and their amendment. Mr Mundell spoke, in all sincerity I am sure, of his desire for

“a smooth and orderly Brexit”,

which is the thrust of the Tory amendment. The trouble for Mr Mundell is that there appears to be no such thing. Alexander Stewart spoke about his confidence that there would be every possible continuation of participation and collaboration in research. However, I tell Mr Stewart that no one has any confidence in that continued participation.