Bioscience would lose out in an independent Scotland, warns minister

A UK government science minister has warned that Scotland’s life sciences sector would lose out if the country decides to leave the United Kingdom.

Scotland is set to vote in a referendum on 18 September on whether to remain in the UK or to become an independent country, and arguments about the potential economic impact of independence are being fiercely contested by both sides in the debate.

Much of the economic debate has centred on Scotland’s oil reserves and on whether an independent Scotland could retain the pound as it currency, and whether it may have to renegotiate membership of the European Union.

Now the spotlight has turned to the future of the life sciences sector in Scotland, which, as in the rest of the UK, is one of the brightest hopes for future growth.

The UK’s new Life Science Minister George Freeman visited Edinburgh on Monday, and warned that an exit from the union could see funding for the sector drop, and membership of the UK’s research networks and communities end.

George Freeman said: “Scottish science and innovation makes a vital contribution to the UK’s world-class research base, bringing benefits for business and society as a whole.

“However, our position has been made very clear to date on this important issue: if Scotland left the UK, the current framework for research could not continue.

“All the evidence suggests that being part of the UK complements and strengthens Scotland’s world-class research base. Scottish institutions and researchers benefit from substantial funding, underpinned by a UK-wide tax base, with access to a nationwide network of world-class facilities and skills.”

Freeman visited two ground-breaking facilities which have been supported by UK research funding over the years – the Roslin Institute and the BioQuarter.

The BioQuarter is home to the UK Medical Research Council’s centre of regenerative medicine, which opened in November 2011, and houses over 200 scientists, providing advanced manufacturing facilities for stem cells. The Roslin Institute undertakes research on the health and welfare of animals; and received £8.7 million of strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council last year. The Institute shot to fame in 1996 when its scientists successfully cloned ‘Dolly’ the sheep.

The UK government points out that Scotland has benefitted from an integrated UK research framework, securing £257 million of UK Research Council grants in 2013, alongside medical research charities’ investment of around £1.1 billion per annum in research, 13 per cent of which is spent in Scotland.

Several leaders in Scotland’s bioscience community have expressed concerns about the future of the sector, but many are wary of stepping in to a political debate, which is becoming heated as decision-day approaches.

There is now less than one month to go to the referendum, and latest opinion polls show support for the ‘Yes’ campaign for independence has grown to 43 per cent of voters, with 57 per cent in favour of remaining in the UK.

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Scotland is blooming with life sciences

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