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Academics divided on impact of a Yes vote

ACADEMICS are split over the impact of independence on university research after more than 100 of them warned the real threat to Scotland's future comes from remaining part of the United Kingdom.

Senior research figures from the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee are among 102 figures who argue their research base would be protected and allowed to thrive - rather than be harmed - by a Yes vote in September's referendum.

Their claims are published in a letter in today's Herald, days after warnings by anti-independence academics that leaving the UK would put the future of universities north of the Border and major contributions to their funding at serious risk.

The row follows a Scottish Government report into research funding after independence. Scotland, with about 8% of the UK population, currently gets around 13% of total UK research funding.

The document said that current arrangements could be preserved following negotiations with the UK Government.

However, critics described that as the "naive assumption [that] little will change with independence".

On Saturday they said: "Overall, the irony of the Scottish Government paper is that it lauds the virtues of the present UK system. If it is so good, isn't continuing membership of the Union a better option?"

The academics who have signed today's letter attack that argument, saying it comes from the idea that Scotland is "too wee, too poor" to excel outside the UK.

They criticise warnings that UK ministers would reject the continuation of a single university research system north and south of the Border.

They argue those claims should be treated with scepticism, pointing to the fact that the UK and the Republic of Ireland have several joint research council funding arrangements.

The letter also warns that the No campaign's argument does not consider what they describes as "the cumulative erosion" of science funding in recent years and the impact that has had on university research.

The researchers also attack the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition's recent crackdown on immigration.

They say it has had a "universally acknowledged negative impact on student recruitment to, and the reputation of, all UK universities".

And they warn that further threats of public spending cuts remain, meaning that the "real threat is not independence but continued participation in the Union".

The signatories include Professor Bryan MacGregor from Aberdeen University, Professor Murray Pittock and Dr Stephen Watson, both from Glasgow, and Professor Joe Goldblatt from Queen Margaret University near Edinburgh.

The academics stress that they have backed the document in a personal capacity, or as members of the Academics for Yes pro-independence group, and not on behalf of their universities.

Professor MacGregor said the signatures had been collected in the space of 36 hours.

He added: "The research paper from the Scottish Government sets out opportunities that we regarded as positive. Then to find the same old responses was disappointing but … not surprising."

Pro-Union academics say there is no precedent for a single research system between two different countries.

A spokesman for the anti-independence Better Together campaign said: "The nationalists should stop talking Scotland down. They are the only people who ever talk about Scotland being too wee, poor or stupid. This is more of the same half-baked assertions by the nationalists."

He added that billions of pounds' worth of investment was being put at risk by separation.

"As part of the UK we can have the best of both worlds - a strong Scottish Parliament, with the guarantee of more powers, backed up by the strength, security and stability that comes from being part of the larger UK. Why put that at risk?"

Figures show that Scottish universities generate one-quarter of the UK's research companies.

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