Scottish independence: two academics either side of border

Sep 9, 2014 by

A Scottish academic working in England, and an English academic working in Scotland, reflect on how a vote for independence will affect their sense of identity

After 13 years as an English academic in Scotland, the prospect of an independent Scotland comes as a shock. There are so many questions. Not least, can an enlightened, advanced society really tear itself apart on nationalist lines after centuries together?

When I first came to Scotland, I was terrifically excited to join a world-famous department in Edinburgh, and am equally fortunate now to find myself in St Andrews among one of the largest groupings of animal behaviour researchers anywhere in Europe. It is not clear how independence would influence these institutions financially or intellectually. While academics have traditionally been very mobile, it is not insularity they look for, but openness and opportunity. What would a new Scotland offer, and could it retain or attract world-leading talent?

Perhaps closest to home is the question of funding for scientific research, and the university sector as a whole, in an independent Scotland. The real fear is whether we will continue to have access to UK research council funding and the major science charities such as the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust. The Yes campaign believes we would still be able to share these funding sources in some new bureaucratic structure, discarding parts of the UK they don’t like, keeping others they do. I find it hard to see this as realistic though.

There is also the bigger question of what Scotland could and would fund. Would a smaller country support as broad and as creative an academic community? Intellectual activities are risky, and often the pay-offs for society appear in the future, or via circuitous routes across disciplines. The size of the UK science base provides the space for the creativity needed for ground-breaking discoveries. That breadth also allows intellectual dissent. Would a smaller Scottish funding agency be able to take the same risks?

The biggest question, however, is: what is independence for?

via Scottish independence: two academics either side of border share concerns | Higher Education Network | Guardian Professional.

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