Recent claims from politicians that Scotland would be eligible to compete for Royal Navy warship contracts if the country left the UK have been rejected by the Ministry of Defence and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Guto Bebb.

Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently confirmed this policy in response to a written parliamentary question:

“The National Shipbuilding Strategy (paragraph 92) was clear that for reasons of national security, the UK prioritises the need to retain the ability to design, build and integrate warships.”

According to the ‘National Shipbuilding Strategy’ document, there are three tenets regarding UK shipbuilding policy that impact on the build location of contracts:

  1. For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition between UK shipyards. But international partners will be encouraged to work with UK shipyards and other providers to produce the best possible commercial solution.
  2. All other naval ships should be subject to open competition (provided that there are no compelling national security reasons to constrain a particular procurement to national providers). Integration of sensitive UK-specific systems will be done in the UK, where possible after competition between UK providers.
  3. Defence will take account of wider factors (including the impact on UK prosperity) when making these procurement decisions.

Many politicians in Scotland had been criticised on social media for suggesting that Britain’s new Type 31e frigates would be built in Scotland if the campaign for independence was successful.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon had claimed at the time of the referendum that the only option for BAE on the event of independence was to continue to build the ships in Glasgow, this however was denied by a GMB convener at the Scotstoun yard in Glasgow:

“She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town. I’m afraid it is not. 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 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 and I have been told quite clearly that will not happen.”


The issue of UK naval contracts on the Clyde had become controversial after the 2014 Independence Referendum and even more so recently when several groups indicated that the work would not go to an independent Scotland. Shipbuilding trade union leaders had previously told Ms Sturgeon to stop “using” them by claiming that British warships would continue to be built on the Clyde in the event of independence as they know that not to be the case.

Nicola Sturgeon had earlier insisted that it would be a “betrayal” to go back on its promise to build the frigate fleet on the Clyde. Sturgeon said:

“Promises were made about orders to these yards and promises were made about jobs at these yards, and I think it is absolutely vital now these contracts are delivered.

These yards have been through some really difficult times with a reduction in the workforce, and they thought that that was all part of the process of getting themselves into shape for the Type 26 and securing a level of employment here.

This is about jobs and securing jobs in an industry. It would be a complete betrayal of these yards if there was any U-turn or going back on on promises made.”

Doesn’t the UK build ships overseas anyway?


Many have misconstrued the building of a naval tanker in South Korea for the RFA as a break in this policy, that is not the case. Support vessels like this are eligible to be constructed outside the UK as only ‘complex warship’ construction (such as destroyers and frigates as outlined above) must stay within UK borders. Besides, no UK yard bid for the work.

RFA Tidespring

Other than procurement activity undertaken during the World Wars, the UK has not had a complex warship built outside of the UK since the start of the 20th century at least. All of the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards and the UK Government says it remains committed to utilising the strengths of UK industry in this specialist and complex area.

There is the matter that companies based in an independent Scottish state would no longer be eligible for contracts that the UK chose to place or compete domestically for national security reasons as this would be protected under Article 346 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union which allows states to declare contracts related to defence or national security exempt from external tendering. Where they could continue to compete, they would be pitching for business in an international market dominated by major economic powers.

There’s also the matter of contracts using US technology, defence contractors that work with items or technology of US origin are also covered by undertakings given in accordance with the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), under which any change to an existing US export licence requires US State Department approval. An independent Scottish state would be a third-party country, not covered by existing UK-US ITAR agreements.

UK companies would not have authority to transfer items and information that is subject to ITAR licence to their subsidiaries or other companies in an independent Scottish state or to a Scottish national, without US approval, anymore than it could transfer such material to organisations or individuals in other foreign states. Every licence held by companies in Scotland working on ITAR-controlled items would have to be re-approved if Scotland became independent.

Isn’t Scotland the only location in the UK capable of building warships?

Claims at the time of the referendum that the only option for BAE on the event of independence was to continue to build the ships in Glasgow were refuted at the time by John Dolan, GMB convener at the Scotstoun yard in Glasgow:

“She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town. I’m afraid it is not. 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 and I have been told quite clearly that will not happen.”

Irish patrol vessel LE Samuel Beckett in build in the Appledore yard in Devon.

Modern shipbuilding makes considerable use of prefabricated sections. Entire multi-deck segments of the hull may be built elsewhere around the UK, transported to the building dock or slipway, then lifted into place and assembled into one ship. This is known as block construction and is far more cost effective.

Yards pre-install equipment, pipes, electrical cables and any other components within the blocks, to minimise the effort needed to assemble or install components deep within the hull once it is welded together.

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.”

HMS Forth in Scotstoun, the first of five new Offshore Patrol Vessels.

Prior to the referendum, the SNP had planned to inherit two Type-23 frigates in addition to four mine counter-measures 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 similar to what’s being built on the Clyde today.

Given 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.

The only way for naval shipbuilding to continue to be viable on the Clyde after independence would be for the Scottish government to place a significant order totalling many billions of pounds for a large volume of vessels.


  1. Quite right too!

    I’m proud of being British, as well as English, as I have Scots and Welsh in me despite the surname!

    I for one would be devastated if our nation broke up. And if the Scots are responsible, giving them billion pound contracts remaining workers in the United Kingdom could do with is out of order.

    • Well said Daniele although I’d go even further regarding my identity. I was born and bred in England and apart from a few years working abroad have lived here all my life yet to my knowledge I’ve have never, ever answered “English” when someone asks me my nationality – I always say “British” and that is how I self-identify. For some reason I have always had real problems thinking of myself as “English”, it just doesn’t feel like a nationality to me. That is why I would be so devastated were our nation to break up because I would, in my mind, lose my country and my national identity.

      I’m not of course meaning to imply anything derogatory or negative about people who identify as English (or Scottish or Welsh or however else anyone wants to self-identify for that matter, so long as it’s not anything to do with a terrorist supposed “state”), just saying how I have this possibly weird thing about not being able to think of myself as English.

        • I’m not English, Scottish, welsh, I’m British. I don’t know what being English is and don’t particularly care. I was born in bucks and lived my whole life in the area. I think it will be a disaster if uk broke up and would do anything to stop it.

          • We were all Britons (Britons..not Celts!! a term which don’t forget was invented by a Welsh priest in the 1800’s) long before there was any England, Scotland, Wales etc. However, they did not think of themselves as Britons only members of whatever tribe they were. Seems to be much the same now, Scots and Welsh have never seen themselves as British or if so only as a secondary nationality. The English have had their own national identity stamped out for decades, hence we’re British with no idea what an English identity is supposed to mean, and any sense of Englishness was and still is considered racism and nationalistic, but with growing nationalism in Scotland it is bound to trigger a sense of English nationhood. I for one have always put English as my nationality, but I am also British.

    • The problem with this idea is the same as it always has been, in that as a sovereign independent nation Scotland has control over all the territory of Scot;and – including Faslane, Coulport, the Clyde and the 12 nautical mile territorial waters.

      The only way the rUK gets access or gets allowed to remain in Faslane and Coulport over the 10 years it would take to relocate to Devonport (likely) or Milford Haven (less likely) is by agreement. And for agreement you need negotiations, and when you get negotiations you get “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.

      Which makes this from Bebb just the same as before – silly empty posturing, playing to the anti-Independence audience at Westminster and around in the anti-Indy and anti-SNP media.

      Which is pretty dumb, frankly, not that I mind, it’s all grist to the mill.

  2. It seems that our “esteemed” Foreign Secretary is not the only politician who believes he can “have his cake and eat it”.

    But then we knew that about the governing party in Scotland anyway…

  3. This is old news. If Scotland want another referendum and are then daft enough to vote for independence then that will be a bigger self destructive act than anything preceeding.
    They would lose more than ship building.
    Barnet formulary-gone overnight
    Naval base on the Clyde- closed or severely downgraded with only the miniscule Scottish armed forces based there
    Investment from rest of UK equal to £5 billion per annum.
    Within a 3-4 year time period the newly independent nation would have added debts of £200 billion + of course they will have to take on their fair share of the current UK debt, which they have helped run up in no small manner, so that’s another £250-300 billion debt from the word go.
    Hey ho we are all in it together.
    Might actually help rest of the UK if they did vote independence as we might all be a bit more well off.
    For to long has Scotland had the best of public services and an unproportionally unfair slice of governmental funding.
    Upto Scotland and it’s people, would prefer the UK to remain as it is but really really really dislike the rheoteric and bull that comes from the English hating SNAP.
    Meanwhile rest of UK will need to withdraw RAF from lossiemouth, redeploy and base our strategic nuclear deterrent.
    Solway firth or Cornwall or West Wales possible locations but the cost of a new nuclear deterrent base would be eye watering,
    We would have to invest in a new QRA airbase in Northumbria or Cumbria to guard our Northern flank, although Scotland if allowed to join NATO would have to up its game and share QRA responsibilities.
    Let’s hope it never happens, would be a really complicated situation, much worse than BREXIT.

    • We don’t need a new QRA base in the north of England. RAF Leeming is still up and running and retains the infrastructure from the old F3 Wing days. Leeming regularly held the QRA round-robin.

      • Two problems with Leeming. First is that it’s just one quarter the distance between Coningsby and Lossie, so for interceptions north of Scotland there’s extra time and fuel to make an interception, plus the air superiority angle.

        Second is that if you look aerially there seems to be little space for the likes of a Q-shed at the end of the runway, without a lot of work and possible CPO.

        Third is of course it’s currently designated for other uses!

    • Ignoring the financial fantasy of your first points, I would expect iScotland to share QRA duties, and indeed to co-base RAF squadrons, either permanently or with “at need” permanent facitlites. Scotland would provide probably a single squadron of front-line fast jets, llikely Typhoons but possibly the likes of Gripens. And the main need of QRA is definitely north of the border.

    • Oh, one more point Mr Bell, having started at outrageous figures for relocating Faslane and Coulport, later figures were way less, even in 2014 Chalmers is quoted: “They suggested that recreating the required nuclear facilities outside Scotland would add between £2.5-3.5bn to the cost of maintaining a nuclear-armed fleet, plus the cost of acquiring and clearing land. This would be far less than a previously-predicted £20-25bn, they said.”

      Plus the economic benefit of that work and those jobs cuts the cost even more. I think it would be way less than £10 billion, and suspect Devonport will already be getting mutlipurpose refurbishment – just in case.

  4. United we stand, divided we fall. Scotland will decide to go or stay, that’s their right & decision. Scotlands part in the UK & achievements are immense & I would be sad indeed if they went.

    It would be good to see naval shipbuilding for the RN/RFA revived at other historic ports.

  5. So it works both ways, right? If under EU rules Scotland would no longer be able to bid for UK ships when we leave, then we would no longer be able to bid for EU (for example, Irish) ships? I noticed that you put a picture of an Irish ship being built in Appledore to illustrate that the Clyde isn’t the only game in town.

    • You are severely misunderstanding what that means. Under EU rules it gives states an opt out if they wish to use it from the regulation that stops nations from showing favouritism with their own componies. So the French can buy a French tank and tell forign compinies to get lost. The rules do not stop nations from buying ships or equipment from non EU counties. That would be inane. Under your reasoning how is half of Europe buying F-35s?

  6. We could solve this problem very easily. Stop giving any defence contracts to firms north of the border. I’m sorry I’m smiling so hard now with a mental image of the Scots Nats reaction ! If for no other reason than that we should do it.

    • Shrug, if Scotland isn’t treated as part of the UK, then support for Indy will increase. The people your idea would anger more is the NO voters.

      • Who (the NO voters) I should point out represented 55.3% of those who voted back in 2014. I’d be delighted if you addressed an audience of NO voters: “You can pay your share, but you don’t get any economic benefit or jobs. We’re Better Together.” 🙂

  7. We don’t want nuclear weapons in Cornwall and there would be huge protest if they ever attempted to end them here. The people of Wales don’t want them either. Store them up the River Thames.

  8. Once upon a time warship contracts were taken from the Clyde yards & re-allocated to the south coast, (there were Tory seats to save!) A fiasco unfolded as the English yards made a complete mess of the work & the contract returned to the Clyde!

  9. The level of ignorance on here relating to the wealth of Scotland just beggars belief. Scotland with its manifold natural resources and with a population of 5 million has been supporting England with 55 million plus for decades now.

    I wouldn’t worry about Scotlands future rather that of the country that’s current military capability is the laughing stock of the Western world, in particular the US.

    If Westminster no longer needs or wants to have military links with its near neighbour, Scotland, fair enough. If they snap their fingers when Scotland becomes Independent and say “contracts ended”, we can snap ours too and say “you’ve got a week to remove your subs” and as far as I can make out there is no other appropriate location in the UK for “rehousing” to the point that in January 2015 the Admiralty visited Gibraltar and were told to “get lost” by the Gibraltarians and the Spanish Government.

    There’s also the wee issue of Scotland’s oil, gas and electricity that England is reliant on. Without it not a lot will be happening south of the border. Dilemma, dilemma!

    • hmmm.
      scotlands oil?? i do believe most of the oil and gas belongs to shetland and orkney islands who do not consider themselves scottish but more scandinavian but do however wish to remain part of the uk…hopefully if democracy is observed properly shetland and orkney will be given the option of voting to stay with the uk…if that does happen that will present a huge financial dilemma for scotland.

  10. The reality is that Westminster is stony-broke & the navy just isn’t getting the gravy. Scotland will need a navy (split-new & no RN duds!) At least the size of Denmark’s as we have many oil installations & no protective cover at present worth the name. This will keep the Clyde busy for a good while, then, as we did in the past, sell to the world to countries which are actually solvent & have money to spend!

    Our share of the intended ‘s replacementludicrous spend on Trident will help with funding & as Trident’s will be leaving our shores for the Thames? the base will do nicely!

  11. So would Scotland need to apply to be a member of NATO if it voted for independence ?

    Would there be a gap between a theoretical Scotish independence and gaining NATO membership?

    If there was that would be a specific risk to the security of Great Britain as Russia seems to push at nations outside of NATO part of its standard package of engagement with the international community…….

    • Scotland would have to formally apply, and be accepted by all current 28 NATO members. But yes, sensibly we’d have some sort of transitory arrangement, for mutual benefit. Doesn’t stop a short-term bi-lateral agreement between Scotland and the rUK all the same.

    • I always forget something. Russia did make advances during Indy Ref 1, about joint shipbuilding ventures. As far as I know they were ignored.

  12. Frankly this discussion is moot, and only feeds haters and separatist. Truth is Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 is not going to be, independent as the UK 🇬🇧 is so linked to one another that splitting apart would do only harm too everyone and only good to the SNP separatist who which to se their country and their neighbors to burn.. So I don’t know about everyone else but this explanatory debate of what if is moot and irrelevant.

  13. I wish you SNP lot would get off this board with your petty views about how important Scotland is, its clear to all that the UK government will not give any future warship contracts to an independent Scotland as far as I’m concerned England would be better off if Scotland was independent both financially and military and all this rubbish cost of removing bases in Scotland would be overcome by areas in England gaining greatly financially with their relocation.


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