What would an independent Scotland mean for UK Science and Technology?

I'm not going to pretend to know a lot about Scottish politics because I don't. But I am interested in what impact independence would have on science and technology - not just in Scotland but across the UK as whole.

Science and technology funding comes from Westminster and the research councils that allocate this funding are UK wide. An independent Scotland could mean a complete reorganisation of the councils and funding allocations, which would affect science and technology across the whole of the UK.

Last month I attended Science and The Parliament in Edinburgh. An event organised by the RSC that brings politicians, policy makers, scientists and research councils together. Jolly good event.

The event finished with a panel debate that tackled the question 'What would happen to science and technology in Scotland if it became independent'. 

A brief overview of the debate and discussion would be that Scotland has a rich history of good science and technology and continues to contribute in this area. *stat from the panel* Scotland has 9% of the UK population but receives 13% of the science funding. 

The panel seemed unsure as to how research councils worked. At one point someone on the panel suggested that Scotland (and I quote), "would just take the bits of the research councils that Scotland wanted". I'm not sure what the rest of the UK would have to say about that.

I won't go through all the minute details of the event as I want to focus on the bigger picture that the debate touched on but didn't look at in detail. What would happen to science in the UK if Scotland were to be come independent?

  • How will the UK research councils be split up? 
  • Would Scotland still be part of the EU (or not) and would Scotland be eligible to apply for EU funding?
  • Where would the funding for science come from? At the minute it comes from Westminster, would a Scottish government match/increase/decrease that funding? Would Westminster change their strategy?
  • Would independence for Scotland reduce the amount of collaboration occurring between Scotland and the rest of the UK (and the world) (consensus being; probably not)
If the research councils were split in two then researchers would be competing with fewer researchers for money. Would that mean standards would slip across the UK as a whole?

This debate was eye opening for me, and clearly highlighted that these discussions haven't happened yet. I believe the research councils are starting to look in to what might happen but I do not know when these discussions will be shared. It's an area everyone in science and technology across the UK should be looking at, and thinking about not just those in Scotland.

You can read the coverage of this debate in The Herald here. I have also contacted the better together, and the Yes campaigns to get some reactions. If anyone has any suggestions as to who I could contact at the research councils then please let me know.  


  1. Hi Heather.

    Going by figures released by David Willets to match science funding Scotland needs to find 220,000,000 pounds. That is equivalent to 0.14% of Scottish GDP. The Westminster government currently contributes around 0.17% to research (the rest of the overall 2.5% spending coming from charitable bodies and private financing).

    In reality the UK govt. spends as much as Belgium does on funding science.

    These figures pleasantly surprised me. As 1% of GDP is the European science Govt. spending target and if people can convince the SNP to declare support for funding at that level than the Govt science funding available to Scottish scientists will far outstrip that offered by Westminster.

    Whether or not the overall figure of 3% can be matched proportionately depends a lot on whether or not private and charitable science funding is a meritocracy or if it is protectionist.

    1. Thanks for the info, do you have a link to the numbers?? So if Scotland becomes independent, and part of the EU they will be spending 1% of GDP on science funding (if they stick to the target?)


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