Speech from Science & Independence Debate

We can talk in the Q&A session about the general case where issues around EU membership, Scotland’s currency, Financial interdependence, Scotland’s share of national debt, NATO, defence, energy security and taxing global companies are topical and we are in an increasingly global world.

Our manufacturing base is down to 13%, still above some other countries or regions but small. Our financial industry has taken a beating through greed and mismanagement, but outside of banking investment is still important.

Independence, just like a puppy, is not just for Christmas; we would be committing ourselves for the next few hundred years. Well beyond gas and oil.

But today we are looking at science research, teaching and industry. Scotland’s universities were nearly bankrupt in every sense in 1870. We reinvented ourselves and today we have Four universities in top two hundred and three in top 80 of new universities. Edinburgh has significant number of spin off companies, more than even Oxford or Cambridge and only slightly behind some top American institutions, some 250 to date and the rate of spin off is increasing.

There are science parks in every university such as the Bio quarter techno pole here.
Life sciences, and the new cross discipline sciences bioengineering and synthetic biology and the fields of nanotechnology and the whole vista of a new revolution in medicine around genomics is exciting but without both collaboration and competition across the UK will we thrive in the long term?

Let me look at one example we have:
5 medical schools training just under 1000 annually. 60% Scottish. Last year Scots admissions were down by 8% or a decline of 40, whilst the English and RUK went up by 60. The Crerar report in 2007 said we only needed half the medical Under Graduates. If we don’t get the income from the 1300 or so English welsh and NI students out of the potential 4500 students, will we be able to maintain five schools. What will happen to St Andrews with its link to Manchester?

My guess is that we might lose 2 medical schools but there is, at best, uncertainty. If you think this is unlikely just look at current parochialism. This is reinforced by the recent case of midwifery where a totally parochial attitude was taken. England is very short it has increased intake and still recruits more midwives from abroad than we train .But the Scottish Government summarily closed three midwifery colleges and now have cut nursing intake by 20%. Hardly global thinking; when our trained health professionals are so highly regarded worldwide.

Hugh has already referred to the MRC, I would add the seven UK research councils where we achieve 13.8% of funds also 14.9% of the Business skills and innovation fund as well as Welcome trust and other UK charities where we punch well above our weight. All in a highly competitive environment .These are no hand outs. These research grants are earned by the talent and excellence of our research teams and by our increasing ability to collaborate across departments and across institutions
So i have to ask again what the benefit of separation would add.
The Irish were part of MRC until their independence, but within a few years lost their place on the council and now don’t compete. Moreover Wellcome only funds to 50% in Eire.
It is the competition which is critical in an increasingly global world. Competing so successfully within the UK sharpens us and in turn attracts the best researchers.
Our stem cell research in neurology has attracted teams from Cambridge. Our bio quarter has the potential to deliver a new prosperity BUT research is increasingly collaborative. But we need the medical schools as a base.

What about regulation, I need not remind us all of the fate of our banks. Of whom it was said [by Salmond] they were being held back by being too tightly regulated by Westminster!
Current regulation of health professionals is through the health professionals council with General Medical Council Dental Nursing+Midwifery council and Pharmacy councils etc. Are all these to continue, in which case what does independence really mean? if not there is a huge cost of new bureaucracy

It is very unlikely that on many of the important issues we will have certainty by the time we vote. But it certainly doesn’t help to find that the first minister was spending money on defending the secrecy of a legal opinion which didn’t exist.

What the yes campaign has to show is what will be the advantages over either the current settlement or indeed seeking further powers which will enhance Scotland within the union.
We must not vote on policies which may prove ephemeral and dependent not on independence but on the character of any future Scottish Government.
Nor should we vote on the basis that we will be free [in one bound!] from future Tory rule in Scotland .In some respects we are a deeply conservative country albeit with a small c. The last party to gain an absolute majority of the plebiscite were the Tories in 1956!

I will finish this brief introduction by saying Scotland had the third highest per capita income before the credit crunch. Who knows if we might be richer or poorer if independent? Separating Scotland from the UK because of a potential income from oil will also have huge consequences for our neighbours, our partners of three hundred years in the most successful union in the world. Neighbours, with whom, we share so much more than what Independence offersWho will not thank us if the RUK rebate for membership of the EU and Security council are jeopardised. I believe that Scotland has and will continue to put the great in Great Britain.