Sources have suggested that the work on the Type 26 Frigates would be moved if Scotland voted for independence.
The Type 26 Frigate programme is responsible for just under 2,000 jobs in Scotland.
While it has been long known that the UK doesn’t build complex warships outside of the UK, the extent to which the builders were taking this position wasn’t well known.
Two sources have now stated that alternatives are being explored should BAE have to move the work from the Clyde.
Just so people are aware, the first batch of Type 31 Frigates at Rosyth would likely have been built before Scotland leaves the UK should they vote to, so they’re not entirely relevant here.
There are rumours that the second batch of Type 26 Frigates will not be built on the Clyde should Scotland vote for independence (as per UK policy on building complex warships outside of the UK), apparently blocks will be built and assembled in a location compatible with policy. pic.twitter.com/vGCsc0cniT
— George Allison (@geoallison) April 18, 2021
This shouldn’t surprise anyone.
One side, the Scottish government, say that naval shipbuilding would continue if Scotland left the UK. The other side, the UK government, say it would not.
“No warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there.”
The issue of UK naval contracts in Scotland has been a hot topic both before and after the 2014 Independence Referendum and even more so recently when several groups indicated that the work on complex warships for the Royal Navy would not go to an independent country.
Have we heard this before?
I can guarantee a response on social media to this article will be “we have heard this before”, suggesting that frigates were ordered to secure a vote in the last referendum and cancelled after the vote came in. Nothing has changed, the ships are being built and ordered in batches.
UK policy on building complex warships outside the UK has not changed so it stands to reason that this will come up after talk of Scotland leaving the UK.
With the change from 13 Type 26 Frigates to 8 Type 26 Frigates and 5 Type 31 Frigates (plus some Offshore Patrol vessels), there was the perception in some corners that work had been cut for Scotland, what actually happened?
What happened after the independence referendum was the five-yearly occurrence known as a defence review, this time called the ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015’. The initial Type 26 Frigate order had been cut back from 13 to 8 in order to fund more of the immediate spending outlined in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
As a result of Type 26 being reduced to 8 ships, it was announced that five general purpose frigates were to be designed and ordered. These became the the Type 31 Frigates and they were ordered from Babcock at Rosyth. Part of the reason for this change was understood to be that the MoD is hoping to reduce its reliance on BAE and cut the costs of procurement.
There are plans for 8 Type 26 Frigates and 5 Type 31 frigates to be built in Scotland, 5 River class Offshore Patrol Vessels have been launched. The original plan was for 13 Type 26 Frigates at one yard, years later the plan is now 18 vessels of three types sustaining work at three yards.
Jonathan Chartier, a defence commentator working in Government and local government IT services, explains the issue.
“Traditionally the Royal Navy has purchased ship classes from multiple yards and in distinct batches, this not only spreads programme costs but also allows for changes and improvements to the base design plus rectification work as well as keep shipyards open with a constant steady stream of work. Certainly for famous classes like the Type 12I Leander this batch production was necessary just to keep up with the radical changes seen in electronics and systems over their extensive career.
So whilst the Royal Navy would have a projected number to be built it was not unusual for the number of batches to be reduced or on some occasion increased as needed without comment by the wider general public to satisfy the requirements of the Admiralty and always lurking in the background Treasury. This practice continued through to the Type 23 class which was built by competing yards Marconi Marine (YSL), Scotstoun and Swan Hunter, Wallsend. It is actually possible to tell where an individual Type 23 was built by inspecting its internal pipe fittings. With warship construction consolidated on the Clyde Type 26 was projected to be a build of thirteen vessels again through multiple batches in keeping with common practice, for those familiar with military ship building the thirteen projected was at best a placeholder subject to change.
Certainly it was well known in the period after the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security review it was clear that the equipment programme was again coming under extreme financial pressure again. In that circumstance it was unfortunate with a Scottish Independence referendum in the running David Cameron and the Better Together campaign unwisely turned routine procurement that could be subject to change into a political football by making it a direct promise to Scotland; thirteen Type 26 Frigates would be built on the Clyde alongside a new ‘Frigate Factory’.
The Labour Party exacerbated the situation with a leaflet spelling out that if Scotland remained in the Union it would get 13 Type 26 frigates. The Prime Minister and other Ministers plus representatives of the Better Together Campaign regularly spelled out that a Scotland in the Union would be getting thirteen Type 26.”
So when the referendum was over and won for Better Together, the reality that Thirteen Type 26 was not deliverable within the allocated budget set in.
“A few months after cast iron guarantees for thirteen Type 26, the order was cut to eight as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security with a compensatory order for five General Purpose frigates proffered and some Offshore Patrol vessels ordered in their place. Considering what was promised in very clear terms by the Prime Minister, Better Together and other Parties including Labour it is understandable why Scottish Nationalists have fixated on it as a totemic issue. Put simply thirteen Type 26 was a core promise by Better Together in the Independence campaign that has been, technically, broken.
Of course the more nuanced point to be considered is that Scotland gained five River class Batch II Offshore Patrol Vessels and five Type 31 Frigates (plus a ‘frigate factory’ in Rosyth) as compensation for the loss.”
You can read more on this from Jonathan Chartier by following the link below.
What are the builders saying about this?
Ian King, former chief executive of BAE, had indicated in a letter submitted to the Scottish Affairs Committee before the 2014 referendum that shipyards on the Clyde would likely have to close if Scotland were to leave the UK. Mr King said BAE would build the ships at a location compatible with the contract awarding process of the Ministry of Defence:
“In the event of a Yes vote, and as we have made clear, we would be required to discuss the future of the Type 26 programme with our customer, the MoD. It would be for the MoD to determine how the vote affects the final decisions they have yet to make on the programme, including the future location of the build of the ships. We would take our customer’s lead in these circumstances. We cannot determine this outcome in advance, or without the direction of the MoD.”
The Ministry of Defence, the customer referred to above by Mr King, has recently made clear that leaving the UK would influence the ‘location of the build of the ships’. The full statement was made by then Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology with responsibility for Defence procurement and Defence exports in response to a question from Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, regarding the Type 26 frigates.
“What I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman is that, had the independence vote gone the way that he and his colleagues would have liked, no warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there; we made that very clear. As it is, as I have just confirmed to the House, we will be proceeding with the construction of eight complex Type 26 warships on the Clyde as and when the programme is ready.”
You can read more about this in-depth below.
You can also read more about the myths below.
What about Scottish naval vessels?
Scotland would still need a navy right? Up to date facts on what an independent Scotland would operate at sea, let alone what it would build aren’t easy to come by. The SNP earlier proposed that under independence Scotland would:
“Take over existing naval, army and air force bases within Scotland and inherit a share of defence equipment in negotiation with the rest of the UK.”
Prior to the referendum, the SNP had planned to inherit two Type-23 frigates in addition to four mine countermeasures vessels, two offshore patrol vessels and four to six patrol boats from all from the Royal Navy’s current fleet.
This leaves seemingly little needing built and any ships that would be constructed, would likely be a few Offshore Patrol Vessels. The plan, it seems, was for the build of two Offshore Patrol Vessels.
Given that the already slow drumbeat of MoD orders are barely enough to sustain the yards as it is, this doesn’t bode well for the yards future if Scotland chooses to leave. Put simply, a couple of ships are not enough to sustain one of the largest shipyards in the UK.
The only way for naval shipbuilding to continue to be viable in Scotland after independence would be for the Scottish government to place a significant order totalling many billions of pounds for a large volume of warships, an order this size by the way would be larger than the entire planned budget for an independent Scottish military.