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The Impact of Independence

Scientists are divided over how an independent Scotland would affect research there, Nature News reports. Scotland votes in a referendum next on whether or not to leave the United Kingdom.

Groups like Academics for Yes say that an independent Scotland would better be able to allocate research monies to science and areas of research that would best benefit Scotland. On the other hand, the group Better Together says Scottish success in the sciences would be affected.

In the event of a vote for independence, how scientific research is funded in Scotland would likely have to change. Currently, Nature News notes that Scottish scientists receive funding from a variety of sources like the European Union, from Scotland-specific sources, and from UK sources, including Research Councils UK.

RCUK funding might be a particular sticking point as Scotland receives a slightly higher percentage —10.7 percent — of total RCUK funding than it contributes in taxes. However, the Scottish government says that in the event of independence, it would make up for any shortage.

The Wellcome Trust, meanwhile, says that it would likely continue to fund projects in Scotland, though would have to review the eligibility of institutions there.

Academics in favor of an independent Scotland say that the creation of the Scottish government has already had a positive effect on science, with the development of innovation centers and research pools, Nature News reports, and further independence could lead to more opportunities.

"In the United Kingdom, we're already spending less on research and development than virtually all our competitors," Bryan MacGregor from the University of Aberdeen and a member of Academics for Yes says. He adds that further budget cuts are in the works and "I don't see how the science budget won't be hit."

At the same time, academics that want Scotland to remain part of the UK say that the voice of an independent Scotland could get lost in EU science discussions and that research might become more "parochial," Nature News says.

"If the [Scottish] government had put in its white paper that they were going to raise the university budget threefold, I might have reconsidered my position," Hugh Pennington, an from the University of Aberdeen and a leader of Academics Together, says. "At best, what they offer is no change."