Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has again incorrectly claimed that Royal Navy work could come to shipyards in an independent Scotland.
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This claim has been made a few times over the last few years, the most recent claim was made during a call-in session on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Caller: “Would the London Government send ships to Scotland?”
Sturgeon responded: “In order to be built? There’s no reason why not; Our shipyards, there are two shipyards on the Clyde that have some of the best expertise anywhere in the UK.”
There are in fact reasons why not, including one being promoted by the SNP themselves.
The first reason would be the campaign to restrict UK naval work to UK yards
The SNPs own manifesto points out that the party want all UK naval work restricted to UK yards.
This would exclude an independent Scotland from competing on all UK shipbuilding work, not just Royal Navy complex warship contracts but also the internationally tendered Royal Fleet Auxiliary support vessels.
This is something, by the way, that the UK Defence Journal supports. Previous Government plans to procure up to three new support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary internationally are facing opposition from almost all parties and trade unions. We go into detail here regarding the arguments for keeping this work in The UK. It’s also widely believed that the recent move to suspend the Fleet Solid Support Ship programme is part of an effort to restrict the work to UK yards.
A second reason, at least at first, would be ITAR restrictions
Defence contractors that work with items or technology of US origin (of which most naval vessels contain) 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 which would take years.
The third, and most important, reason would be the the National Shipbuilding Strategy restricting warships from international tendering
The Ministry of Defence, the organisation paying for the ships, has also made it clear that leaving the UK would impact orders at Scottish yards. A 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.“
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 the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy prevents what it defines as warships (frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers) from being built outside of the UK. If Scotland left the UK, it would no longer be eligible to compete based on this restriction.
“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.”
This is why all of the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards.
What does this all mean?
The UK Government would have to be incredibly determined to find a way around the above restrictions and build Royal Navy ships in an independent Scotland. Frankly, it would be easier and more politically viable to build future vessels in a yard in what remains of the UK.
It’s hard to see how that would be politically viable for a party of any colour to sell to voters in whatever remains of the UK should Scotland leave.
Scotland could (and if it wants to keep the yards going, it should) build its own naval vessels but the claim that UK naval contracts would still come to Scottish yards is not correct.