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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 Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Oliver Mundell accuses the SNP and the Scottish Government of being negative by highlighting this issue in the Scottish Parliament when it is having a negative impact. There is not one student, researcher, lecturer or member of the business community who thinks that we are going to be anything other than worse off with Brexit. Therefore, it is going to have a negative impact and the Scottish Conservative Party should be telling the UK Government about that negative impact to prevent it from happening in the first place.

We need clarity over the settled status of EU nationals in Scotland—that is a big issue in campuses around Scotland. The Brexit secretary, Michael Russell, told us that he visited the University of Stirling and spoke to students there this morning about a report that it has carried out on the impact of Brexit on EU nationals who are studying at the university. The international students there feel anxious over the uncertainty that is being generated by Brexit. They feel that there has been a lack of information, which is a barrier to their plans to stay in Scotland and the UK. They highlighted the value of learning in a multicultural environment and expressed worry that Brexit might threaten that. That is what is happening out there and what the Conservative Party is being complacent about. We have to give certainty as soon as possible to EU students and to researchers and their staff who are from Europe and who are working and contributing to Scotland, because the Conservative Party and the UK Government are not doing that.

Indeed, how can the Conservative Party say that everything will be all right when, in October, the UK Prime Minister said that her proposals will end freedom of movement once and for all in the UK?

The development of new scientific approaches in Scotland has always depended on the free exchange of ideas between researchers regardless of geographical or political boundaries. That international collaboration is extremely important for Scotland and it delivers for our economy.

I met Dame Anne Glover, the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, just a couple of days ago. She handed me issue 22 of

Science Scotland

—the summer 2018 issue—which is published by the RSE. This issue highlights nine of the most promising young companies in Scotland—nine entrepreneurs who have emerged from Scotland’s higher education sector, in the main, and who are now starting up companies that we have high hopes will deliver jobs, innovation and research breakthroughs for the people of Scotland. Out of the nine entrepreneurs, three are people who have moved from other EU countries to live and work in Scotland and contribute to our country. They are among the people who will face barriers in the future, and that is why the UK Government’s Brexit proposals will cause so much damage to our country. We need mobility and we need to be able to continue to be in these research programmes.

I will finish by reiterating some of the remarks that I made in my opening speech about why this issue is so important to Scotland. I remind members that, compared with the rest of the UK, we employ 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 full-time research staff from the EU working in our universities. That is why this issue is so important.

To finish, Iain Gray quoted Einstein on stupidity. At this time of year, that reminds me that, in 1910, a general who was asked whether there would be a war in Europe said that it would be “inconceivable stupidity” on the part of statesmen if such a scenario was to arise, and we know what happened in 1914. We will be remembering that this Sunday.

We have a situation now in which the stupidity of politicians in the Conservative Party and the UK Government has taken us to the brink of leaving the European Union, inflicting massive damage on our international reputation, Scottish jobs, research, funding and, potentially, the quality of life of the people of Scotland. We have to stop that from happening, which is why I ask Parliament to back the motion today.