Chief Science Correspondent
With Scotland's independence referendum just two days away and polls predicting an extremely tight outcome, many have voiced concerns on how a split would impact the science research.
Universities and Science Minister Greg Clark, said a split would be "a tragedy for science."
"They (Scotland) do fantastically well," Clark said at the British Science Festival last week. "To disrupt, to rupture what is a successful system would be a real step backwards. I very much hope in the interests of science and the prestige of U.K. science that they stick with us."
A 2008 Research Assessment found that Scotland contributes to 1 percent of the world's scientific research, despite only comprising 0.1 percent of the world's population. Fifty-five percent of this research stems from international collaboration - the highest in the world.
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland last January and, as a scientist, I could appreciate the clear priority this nation has placed on science research. I had the chance to visit one of Scotland's many science museums, "Our Dynamic Earth," and I believe it is one of the best I had ever seen. I also visited the BioQuarter in Edinburgh, where I learned about some of Scotland's leading medical research in cancer treatment, regenerative medicine and genomics.
Several members of my laboratory at Ohio University recently attended the International Congress on the Biology of Fish, which was held in Edinburgh.
Scotland may be small, but its passion for science research makes it much greater than the size of its population.
As Clark stated, evidence suggests a split could be a loss for British science. But would it be a loss for Scottish science?
The major concern is whether an independent Scotland could maintain funding for its own well-established system of science research without the support of the U.K. However, despite Scotland's immense success, Scottish scientists are vastly underfunded compared to the rest of the U.K.
Scottish science funding is currently supported by the British government. However, Britain's allocation in funding is grossly disproportionate, with Scottish universities receiving 17 percent less U.K.-provided funding than Scotland's population size would warrant, according to a 2011 report.
Scotland already pays an average of £800 more per capita in taxes to the U.K., according to a 2012-2014 report. At least in terms of science funding, this extra level of investment is not paying off.
It is important to note that Scotland does not fully rely on direct U.K. allocation for research. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1998 has allowed for increased funding to universities. As a result, half of Scotland's science funding comes from the Scottish government's university grant system.
Scottish research has clearly thrived. As the world's number one international collaborator, Scottish science is largely supported by its own partnerships with universities around the world. European Commision Chief Science Adviser Anne Glover said she believes independence will not sever Scotland's established ties with larger nations.
"If I am in China or in North America I want to work with the best," Glover said. "And if the best are in Scotland, I’m still going to work with the best.”
Independence may not have a major impact on Scottish science, as it is already partially self-sufficient and relies on international partnerships that do not rely on a relationship with the U.K. However, independence could potentially allow an independent Scotland to allocate more funding towards its own science research, rather than disproportionately supporting U.K. science.
No matter which direction the vote falls this week, Scotland has already made science a top priority. And it has proven itself as a strong player in the international science community. Science is a critical aspect of Scotland's identity. While funding allocation may be revised in independence, Scotland's dedication to science research will not disappear with a "yes" vote.