As the referendum draws closer, all of us at St Andrews must be aware of what independence will mean for our country, our university and our degrees. Separation from the United Kingdom will have very real effects on the future of our university, and before polling day those of you who are undecided should be aware of the huge repercussions.
As an independent country, we will inevitably lose funding. We gain a substantial amount of all our research funding from grants made by United Kingdom-wide research councils. This amount in monetary terms comes to £257 million and is 13% of all available funds in the United Kingdom. Due to our status as one nation, mutual gains are made; Scottish institutions gain funding and the rest of the UK and said institutions benefit from our research. The SNP looks to continue this symbiotic relationship in an independent Scotland, an outlook that is frankly unlikely and naïve. Based on historical precedent, we can see that these UK research councils rarely, if ever, fund research in foreign countries, with an independent Scotland being no exception. In order to compensate for this loss of funding, an independent Scotland would have to at least invest 0.23% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into funding, or find this funding elsewhere. In an independent Scotland, could the new government afford to fund Scotland’s research opportunities to the same scale we can achieve as part of the United Kingdom?
Other organizations also contribute heavily to Scotland’s research funding, a luxury we stand to lose in the eventuality of a Yes vote. Governments agencies are a significant contributor to Scotland’s research funding; the Ministry of Defence and Department of Health both have significant research and development programmes within Scotland. The MoD budget is almost exclusively invested within the UK, and not abroad, in order to maintain operational advantage and to secure supply, meaning this would be lost should we become an independent state.
In addition to public funding, Scotland receives substantial funding from private organizations, which contributes heavily to Scotland’s total research funding. Across all these organizations, £1.1 billion is invested per annum across the UK, 13% of which is invested into Scotland, totaling £143 million. Cancer Research UK alone spent £34 million on Scottish research in the 2012-2013 academic year, including at the University of Stirling, which is home to the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Research. As a result of international administration costs and taxes that arise as a result of independence, many of these charitable organizations would find it both more complex and more expensive to fund research in Scotland, and thus may relocate elsewhere. Thus, independence would be a truly Pyrrhic victory for Scottish education; whilst we would have gained our autonomy, we also would have lost a substantial amount of research potential. The SNP distort the extent that Scotland rely on the UK in terms of funding; in Scotland’s Future it is stated that a third of funding comes from the Scottish Research Council and only a quarter comes from the UK wide research councils. However, a further 30% come from UK government departments, as well as UK charities, with UK wide funding amassing around 63% of all funding in Scotland. Independence would be a devastating blow to our research opportunities, and this is not a loss Scottish research can afford to take.
It must also be noted that as part of the UK, we have access to 221 international research facilities around the globe, including CERN and the European Southern Observatory. As an independent state, there is no guarantee we would still have access to these, nor is there any guarantee we would be able to afford access to them. With the University of St Andrews being the current UK frontrunner in Physics and Astronomy, a loss of membership to use facilities such as CERN would be hugely damaging to Scottish STEM research opportunities, an area Scotland has historically excelled in. Furthermore, there is again no guarantee we would even be able to use British research infrastructure, and the UK is under no obligation to extend the present terms to an independent Scotland, despite claims by the SNP that we will be able to continue these links. It is the best interests of our researchers, in order to maximize the opportunities and resources available to them that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.
Callum Yourston is an International Relations and Arabic student in his second year at St Andrews. This article was adapted from the runner-up piece submitted to the HEPI/Times Higher essay competition on Scottish Independence.