Blog: The hurdles of medical research that face the SNP

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Jonathan Canty, our Project Information Analyst, reflects on the SNP Conference in Glasgow last week

Brexit dominated proceedings at the SNP Conference in Glasgow last week. Packed-out fringe meetings revealed the depth of feeling of party members and politicians alike about Scotland's future relationship with the European Union.

The SNP's clear policy is 'Independence in Europe', – in other words, membership of the European Union for Scotland as an independent nation state.

This was reinforced by the launch of a new publication at the Conference – Scotland in Europe – which sets out his case for why EU membership is best for Scotland.

This includes a section on science and research funding, looking at the example of Norway, which is not an EU member state and has to pay into the EU's research programme (Horizon 2020) for its researchers to gain access to funding.

The immigration issue

Continuing the free movement of people between Scotland and the EU is also a crucial part of the SNP's position.

Last month, the Scottish Government published its Programme for Government in 2017-18. This included proposals for powers over immigration to be devolved from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament.

In theory, this could allow Scotland to adopt a more open immigration system, in an attempt to attract more talent from across the EU to take up jobs in the science and research sector in Scotland.

However, operating two separate immigration systems within the United Kingdom would be a highly unusual arrangement, and represent a huge loss of control over immigration for the UK Government.

It is highly unlikely this option will even be contemplated whilst negotiations over the future of free movement between the UK and the EU are ongoing.

A Catch-22 Situation

Ultimately, power over the negotiating position of Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK, on immigration and many other issues, rests with the UK Government at Westminster.

In some ways, this reality explains why the SNP has adopted its positions around EU membership. They are predicated on a future EU-UK deal being determined by the Scottish Government as unsatisfactory, and on Scotland becoming a sovereign, independent state.

Given the SNP's position, and the current status of talks between the UK and EU, it would suggest that a second Scottish Independence referendum is possible before the next UK General Election.

Indy Ref 2

A second Scottish Independence referendum would throw up some major questions, comparable to those that Brexit has provided.

In the case of a 'Yes' vote, an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, meaning uncertainty for medical researchers in the years that the new state is negotiating an accession treaty.

Along with other medical research charities, since the Brexit vote, we have argued that alignment on clinical trials regulation between the UK and EU is essential to ensuring that research on paediatric brain tumours can take place.

But regulatory alignment is equally important when it comes to Scotland and the UK, in order to ensure equal access to treatment and care for brain tumour patients.

The Scottish Government published an Independence White Paper before the first Referendum in 2014, which said that an independent Scotland would continue to pay into UK research bodies, but made no reference to other issues like future UK-Scotland cooperation on clinical trials.

If the SNP wants to provide reassurance to researchers in life sciences and the University sector in a future referendum, it will have to engage with pressing questions like this for the research community.

Whatever the future constitutional arrangement of the UK looks like, we are committed to influencing policy and campaigning for change in each of the four nations, including Scotland.

We've been stepping up our campaigning in the Scottish Parliament this year, and if you'd like to get involved in local campaigning or as an e-campaigner in Scotland, you can sign up here.