Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was criticised by trade union members and the defence industry for suggesting that Britain’s new warships, Type 26 frigates, would be built in Scotland if the nationalist campaign for independence was successful, despite Ministry of Defence sources (you know, the people who order the ships!) insisting that will not happen. Shipbuilding union leaders told Ms Sturgeon to stop “using” them by claiming that British warships would continue to be built on the Clyde in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote as they know that not to be the case.
Ms Sturgeon was refuted by John Dolan, GMB convener at the Scotstoun yard in Glasgow, when she met with the unions following BAE Systems’ announcement that 1,775 shipbuilding jobs are to be lost across the UK in their three facilities. Mr Dolan was responding to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks this week when she said Portsmouth’s closure meant that the Clyde was now the “only” place to build the ships in the UK.
“She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town. I’m afraid it is not, Portsmouth is still alive. It doesn’t close until next year some time. There’s shipbuilders in Cammell Laird in Liverpool. You have got the A&P Group on the Tyne, who are shipbuilders, and you have got Barrow in Furness. So to say if Scotland goes independent we will still be building Type 26 frigates… listen, I assure you that if we go for independence we will not be building. We have been told quite clearly by the UK government … personally, I have been told quite clearly that will not happen.” said Mr Dolan, who pointed out that there were several yards south of the Border where the frigates could be built.
UK Government ministers and the defence industry itself have already insisted that this work would go elsewhere if people in Scotland vote yes to independence next September, though Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted Clyde shipyards could still build the UK contracts contrary to what the UK government themselves have actually said.
John Reid said that UK warships would not be built north of the border if Scotland left the UK and became a foreign country. Writing in the Scottish Sunday Express, he said: “The wider lesson from the last few days is that the only way to secure the future of Scotland’s shipyards is to remain in the UK. This is not a matter of political opinion, it is a matter of fact. It is a fact that since the Second World War no UK Government of any political stripe has ever commissioned the building of a warship in a foreign country. It is a fact that for security, as well as economic and political, reasons we build these ships here at home in the UK.”
He added: “In short, we don’t build warships abroad now — and what’s left of the UK wouldn’t do so if Scotland separated.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael called on her to admit she is wrong on her assertion that an independent Scotland could still build UK warships. He said: “Nicola Sturgeon is looking pretty isolated on this. The best thing she could do is admit that she is wrong.”
“Is she really saying that everyone else is wrong and she is right? Is she telling us that the people who build the warships and the people who place the contracts know less about this than she does?” he added.
Additionally, the Defence Secretary and BAE Systems recently identifed Glasgow as the preferred site for the Type 26 contract. These orders will safeguard jobs on the Clyde for years to come. It is a fact that, as part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the sheer scale of the UK’s defence budget and ambitions. This not only provides Scotland with a level of security that it would be difficult to replicate in a separate Scotland, but it sustains thousands of highly skilled jobs throughout the country.
The Scottish National Party have no real understanding of the UK’s defence industry. In recent days, for example, Nicola Sturgeon has argued that a separate Scotland would still have access to big defence contracts from the rest of the UK, despite claims from the defence industry and UK government to the contrary.
Furthermore her assurance to the Scottish Parliament that contracts are currently being awarded to foreign countries such as South Korea and Australia, so they would be awarded to a separate Scotland just as easily also seems to highlight her ignorance of how the defence industry works. She forgot to mention that the tender for ships to South Korea was for what are essentially cargo ships, rather than the warships so expertly built on the Clyde and that Australia will be building their own ships if they ever do sign up to the Type 26 frigate programme.
In contrast to nationalist wishful thinking the Scottish electorate have heard from academics, the defence industry itself and trade unionists , people who deal in the facts of real life, people with years of experience in the industry. Their message is very simple, the sustainability of Scotland’s defence industry is inextricably tied up with Scotland remaining in the UK.