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 welcome the debate and all the contributions from across the chamber, many of which I may well comment on. It reminds me that we want to pay tribute to our research community and our higher education and other institutions that make such an immense contribution to our economy and to developing knowledge and curiosity.

I was just thinking about a company in Forres in my constituency called Aurora Sustainability, which is developing sustainable materials for fish boxes, which are, of course, a big issue with regard to the world’s oceans. One of the two people in the company is Scottish and the other is Italian. We have to remember that aspect of the impact of Brexit on research in this country. The issue is not only about research in our higher and research institutions; it affects people right across Scotland’s economy.

There has been a lot of consensus in the debate around that contribution. There has even been a lot of consensus about the need to protect that contribution from the effects of Brexit. We must all rally round that consensus in the challenging months—potentially years—ahead. It is important that we maintain the ability of our researchers and staff to move back and forth between Scotland and Europe and that we maintain full participation in the European funding programmes.

The SNP and the Scottish Government will today support the Liberal Democrat amendment in the name of Tavish Scott, on the issue of the people’s vote. It is, of course, a democratic outrage that Scotland faces being dragged out of the EU against our will, particularly given what we were told by the no campaign during the independence referendum in 2014. The people of Scotland voted to remain, and another EU referendum would be another opportunity to ensure that the wishes of the people of this country are respected, which is why we will support that amendment. Of course, it would be only an opportunity, not a guarantee, and it would not necessarily protect Scotland from the same outcome as that of the 2016 referendum.

We will also support the Labour Party amendment, which raises the issue of maintaining our participation in horizon 2020. Scotland has punched above its weight and secured €550 million during the current programme. It is important that we have full participation in the success of the horizon Europe programme.

The Conservative Party is being complacent over EU funding. If the withdrawal agreement is signed, the UK will continue to participate fully in EU programmes—and, therefore, Scottish organisations will be eligible to participate in all aspects of horizon 2020—but only until Brexit day. The big question is what happens thereafter. Even in terms of the deal that will be signed, there is a lack of clarity around our participation up to the end of the horizon 2020 programme. Those funds are valuable to Scotland, as they sustain jobs and enable people from Scotland to take part in collaborative research projects across Europe.

The Scottish Government will continue to do a lot of work to highlight the impact of Brexit on the sector and on Scottish research, science and innovation. We have a Brexit forum with the higher education research sector. I will take a delegation to London to meet the UK Government, to highlight the importance of protecting the sector. I will also soon take a delegation from across the sector to Brussels to make a case for continued participation in many of the programmes.

It is a bit rich for Rachael Hamilton to say that the only reason the SNP is discussing this issue is our “grievance agenda”. It is a bit rich for the party that is taking Scotland out of Europe against its will to talk to us about a grievance agenda. The Conservative Party has a brass neck in putting forward its hard Brexiteer Oliver Mundell to champion and lead for the Conservative Party in a debate about a sector that will take one of the biggest hits from Brexit, which he voted for and supports.