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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Rehash of an issue already discussed to death on this website I am afraid- can we move on please. Unless the SNP declare they are going to hold indyref mark 2 then there is little or no need to revisit this issue- it is too emotive and lots of people including myself get quite heated debating the pros and cons on this website- suffice it to say any indyref 2 would be really disruptive to the UK and likely to cause huge problems for Scotland the rUK if Scotland voted for independence.
    Lets all hope and pray we never have to consider this.

    • I agree this has been done to death, but from the other side, here’s another headline:

      “Scotland unable to keep Royal Navy SSBNs if independent confirms dadsarmy.”

      On Independence Day 1st January 2021 immediately the rUK leaves the EU for good, the rUK will have to have removed all its SSBNs and SSNs, and all Trident missiles from the Clyde.

      These are effectively two cancelling headlines. Where oh where will the RN put its nukes?

      Perhaps the two independent countries might like to talk about this and resolve the problem before it even happens …

      • Dads army: I understand that Milford Haven in west Wales is the most likely option for rehoming the SSN and SSBN fleets. It of course goes without saying that there would have to be an enormous amount of investment in the area if Scottish independence were to come to pass, but there are no insurmountable problems.

        • Milford Haven is one option, but Devonport another and to my mind the cheaper of the two. Possibly better, there’s an oil refinery nearby Milford Haven. Barrow is basically ruled out because of the tidal passage making it problematic for duty SSBNs plus standby to go in and out.

          Initial estimates of cost were huge, like £40 billion, but last I saw was less than £10 billion off the top of my head. Spread over 10 years or perhaps 8 years, well, achievable at least.

          Mmm, maybe even a lot less, found this again:

          https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201408_op_relocation_relocation_relocation.pdf

          Add to that nearby Aldermaston and a fairly recently refurbished Burghfield, and it’s not a real problem, just takes time that’s all. Faslane isn’t the problem at all, not really, it’s a suitable Coulport replacement, though its need is vastly reduced since established and built. They’re picking Falmouth for that, personally I’d look across the water from Devonport, there’s even old military roads.

          • Yes, Falmouth is better for that, but there’s the problem it’s a fair way away and reduces patrol time, plus the extra local opposition. Opposite Devonport (south a bit) would need a Dutch style channel plus dredging, a fair amount of cost and time, but much nearer for the long term. It’s probably what I’d go for given the choice. The birds might complain a bit. Maybe even somewhere on the east ness, pretty cheap CPO either option.

        • Just going to add Chris, that Chalmers (good heavens, two of them) improved greatly during the first Indy Ref with his understanding of the situation of Scotland, but even in that paper is still a bit UK-centric, which is a mistake in the creation of such a paper, you need to put yourselves in the other side’s shoes as well, but it’s pretty good all the same, not much to disagree with.

    • it would serve the slow, sturgeon rabble right if they really were pitted against english yards especially for the production of frigate modules

  2. 100% Mr. Bell. I love the UK Defence Journal and praise and recommend as much as I can but enough already. The matter was settled a long time back

  3. Totally agree, we all know the Scottish ship building industry will fold without RN contracts – so move on.

    When will UK defence Journal investigate why the armed forces has has its flexibility destroyed by contracting out support. I believe 50% of all front line support is now be run and manned by contractors. I know this does not affect the infantry per se, but the support roles in both the Navy and RAF are now devoid of military involvement. Therefore there is no respite servicemen who are serving on the front line. This is one of the key reasons so many personnel leave their work life balance is heavily skewed towards work.

    So come on UKDJ investigate something new and pertinent.

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it would be stupid to split our island up into separate tiny countries. Together we are the equivalent of a France or a Germany, separately we would be more like a Belgium or a Holland.

    • In that case it might be a good idea to convince about half the Scots population that not dissolving the Union with England is a good thing. Some of us never felt particularly British after prolonged postings in England. One wonders where the money would come from for any new English navy ships should the Union be dissolved, let alone the crews!

  5. I’ve often wondered what Wee jimmy Krankie and frog would get up to if they managed to cede from the south regards its naval bases. As they are such f-ing haters , I wouldn’t be surprised if they allowed the Russians and Iranians to base their military in country. Yes we may laugh at such a supposition, but imagine if Scotland is denied access to the EU straight away and has to find cash to prop up its bank balance. To them, Moscow and Tehran are the victims of Western propaganda and as they are such enlightened people, they would be happy to set the record straight ..for a price.

      • Really?
        I’ve served all over the world with the Army and the most polarised people I have met are the jocks. During any international match I will always support the home teams. But the Jocks take great pleasure in supporting the otherside if England is playing.

        I shared a camp with the KOSBs what a bunch of f-ing ingrates We were denied the use of the Naafi on an evening because we were not Scottish.

        Go out on the piss in Glasgow and some f-cker will always have a go when they hear your english accent.

        The Scottish for a good few years know have been braiwashed to feel that they are the victims of Empire. The irony here, there would have been no Empire without the Scottish.

        • “Go out on the piss in Glasgow and some f-cker will always have a go when they hear your english accent.”

          You should try an Edinburgh accent in some Glasgow pubs, English is safer.

          I’m sure people from Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham, Belfast, Glasgow don’t get the same treatment in pubs in Surrey, for instance. Mmm.

        • Oh get real! There would have been no empire without Scotland, just like there will be no United Kingdom should Scotland decide to dissolve the Union. And there in lies the heart of the problem – English superiority complex, my English relations STILL insist on saying England when they mean Britain. Gets irritating after two generations!

  6. The UK build policy is a major change. In the past all non-escort naval vessels such as amphibs & minehunters were built in the UK. Now they can, and will be, built abroad.

    No UK yards bid for the Tides because they didn’t have a hope in hell of matching Korean prices. The Treasury said the lowest bid would win so what was the point in bidding?

    • The big question Ron5 is why are we not competitive? We should be looking at the causes of our poor productivity and look to ways of correcting this Other parts of UK industry can compete with the rest of the world. The outdated and patronising image of Asian workers toiling away for a bowl of rice simply doesn’t fit. The South Koreans are a prosperous and modern industrial nation but they are not Supermen?

  7. Well, the point is probably moot as the Indiref voted to stay. SNP will continue to push of course.
    IF Scotland chose independence they’d emain firm allies & partners. Should we withdraw warship building etc? I’d hope not but maybe we’d have to, though it seems a bit spiteful.

    It would reinvigorate RUK shipbuilding hopefully. Maybe it would save some UK bases that have not yet been flogged off cheap & some that have may be recovered before vital infrastructure is lost.

    Off the top of my head, what about relocating the Faslane base to Holyhead? or leasing the base as it is?

    • It’s expected generally it’d take 10 years to move the facilities at Coulport, though perhaps the move of the SSNs from Devonport to Faslane is part of a contingency plan to redevelop Devonport to take the SSBNs (my theory!), with a bit of CPO on nearby land. Devonport of course still has a nuclear licence.

      Yes, iScotland and the rUK should indeed remain firm allies and partners, some of the silly anti-“Jock” rhetoric doesn’t help, hopefully the defence establishments would be above that, just as they need to ignore any politics at times.

  8. “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.”

    Umm, and what is the planned out of service date of those Type 23s to be inherited, that the RN is planning to replace with Type 26 and Type 31? One a year from 2023 onwards is it?

    Please be sensible and fit the facts, rather than knee-jerk anti Scottish Independence.

    And it was four, not two.

  9. I am afraid this is going to simmer on for my lifetime at least.
    The question will be asked continuously until the petulant party gets the answer it wants.
    What I find almost criminally negligent is the lack of future planning that is considered by this current crop of self serving politicians. In the south west we see the continual death by a thousand cuts at Devonport, all to push the political narrative about Scotland. The money being spent on Faslane and Coulport may all be wasted on the result of a vote in 5 or 10 or 30 years time.
    To compound the stupidity, one of the big retention issues in the submarine service is having the boats in Faslane. It is a real ‘marmite’ base, unfortunately not many people do like the base and area.
    Keeping at least some of the SSNs and developing facilities for SSBNs anywhere other than Scotland would help to both future proof the vital national infrastructure and help with retention issues.
    As an aside, I am unsure as to whether Milford Haven would be suitable for the same reasons as Faslane.
    Falmouth has reasonable access to the western approaches, geographically close to former nuclear depth charge storage facility at RAF St Mawgan.

    • Gfor, I think the petulant party is too busy with internal splits, far right leanings, Brexit negotiations, and trying to head off leadership challenges from Rees-Mogg while doing its best to restrain Boris from declaring war single-handed on Russia and anyone else come to that.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here