By Martin Kelly
The anti-independence Better Together campaign is today facing the prospect of one of its key arguments in favour of the Union disintegrating.
This weekend it emerged that BAE Systems is facing the prospect of having to close one of three UK yards due to a lack of UK defence contracts after cuts in Government defence spending.
The yards facing closure are the Clyde based Govan and Scotstoun yards and a third based in Portsmouth.
BAE Systems employ 3,500 workers at the Scottish yards and a further 5,000 at the English site. The firm has said it does not have sufficient work to keep all three sites open and a decision on which site will close is to be made before the end of the year.
The companies Chief Executive Nigel Whitehead said: “We anticipate that there will be a reduction in footprint, and we anticipate… that part of that might actually be the cessation of manufacturing at one of the sites.”
The news is a severe blow to the anti-independence campaign which has consistently claimed that only by remaining in the Union can Scottish shipbuilding jobs be secured. However the revelation that there are insufficient contracts to sustain the three yards, even without independence, will come as a shock to many workers.
The yard in Portsmouth is widely believed to be the most vulnerable; however closure of one of the Scottish based yards cannot be ruled out.
Labour MP Ian Davidson has claimed that one of the Scottish yards could face closure as a result of possible Scottish independence.
He said: “Obviously if Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom, then the terms of business would preclude any orders for the Type 26 being placed on the Clyde.”
However claims that the MoD wouldn’t award contracts for military vessels overseas ignore the fact that a South Korean firm has been awarded the contract to build the Navy’s next MARS fleet tanker.
In reality, shipbuilders across Europe – including in Scotland – regularly get orders from other countries. France makes ships for Russia, and the UK has made frigates for Malaysia.
Other commentators have highlighted the political implications of closing one of the Glasgow yards. BBC Scotland’s Business and Economy Correspondent Douglas Fraser warned that to “cut the workforce and perhaps a yard on the Clyde” would “hand Scottish nationalists a substantial campaigning gift.”
Westminster SNP leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “While it is disappointing that BAE Systems are reportedly considering closing one of their UK shipyards, the Scottish yards go into this process in a very strong position.
“Just last week leading defence expert Ian Godden highlighted the strength of Scotland’s defence industry because of its industrial and engineering capability. These strengths must be taken into account by BAE, and hopefully it will help them conclude that there should be no reduction in manufacturing capacity in Scotland.”