By Martin Kelly
The Labour party is facing calls to withdraw a leaflet that claims Govan shipyard is under threat from a Yes vote, after BAE systems placed the future of the yard in doubt by signalling its intention to focus future plans on the Scotstoun Yard.
Today BAE confirmed plans to invest heavily in its shipbuilding capability on the Clyde, which the firm says will secure major shipbuilding in Scotland for decades.
The company had considered two options. One would have seen both Govan and Scotstoun share £100 million of investment which would have required partially completed vessels to be towed from one yard to the other.
However the preferred option will see Scotstoun receive a £200m makeover turning the yard into a state of the art facility capable of constructing Type 26 Frigates for the MoD. The second option will reduce construction costs considerably, BAE’s Charlie Blakemore said.
He said: “Having all the operations under one roof would offer significant benefits. It would save around a third on build time.
“We’re working with the MoD to ensure we reach an affordable Type 26 business case to deliver a successful project for the Royal Navy.”
Should the preferred plans go ahead, it would mean the end for the Govan Yard.
In a statement to the Herald newspaper, GMB stewards’ convener at Scotstoun John Dolan said the Scotstoun option was the best long-term.
He said: “If we stand still, we will fail in five years.
“The facilities at Scotstoun would be first-class and would make us a more modern 21st century yard able to compete with foreign shipbuilders.”
With both management and trade unions apparently in agreement over the preferred option, the fate of the Govan Yard looks sealed.
However, whilst welcoming the news of BAE’s commitment to Scottish shipbuilding, Glasgow Southside MSP Nicola Sturgeon has today called on the No campaign to stop what she called hypocritical scaremongering about shipbuilding.
Ms Sturgeon welcomed BAE’s commitment to the Clyde and investment in Scotstoun, but expressed concern about the threat to Govan.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I welcome BAE’s strong commitment to the Clyde – which stands in stark contrast to the No campaign’s scaremongering – but I am concerned that Govan’s future seems less than secure.
“As a Glasgow MSP who used to represent Govan shipyard I very much hope that a two yard option can be the way forward
“However, the UK government’s apparent inability to secure the future of Govan highlights the hypocrisy of the No campaign’s scaremongering tactics.
“The No camp said a Yes vote threatened Govan, but the fact is that a plan for its closure is happening now – on Westminster’s watch.”
Despite news that Govan looks certain to close regardless of the referendum, the Labour party has been circulating a leaflet claiming the yard’s future was safe with a No vote.
Ms Sturgeon added: “It is ironic that we have Labour leafleting in Govan with a message that says ‘Separation shuts shipyards’ and vote No to save Govan, at the same time as a plan is being developed that would see it close under the Westminster system.
“Their ill-judged scaremongering has totally boomeranged on them.
“This news must end the anti-independence scaremongering on shipbuilding once and for all. It is not independence that threatens shipbuilding – it is clear that the Clyde is the only place for Type 26s to be built. But it is a Westminster government that may be set to preside over the closure of one of the Clyde’s yards.”
The issue of shipbuilding in Scotland has become a pawn in the hands of pro-Union figures with many claiming that a Yes vote would see an end to the industry in an independent Scotland and that any MoD orders for Type 26 Frigates would go to Portsmouth.
However experts have said that such a plan would involve massive costs in order to refit the English yard.
Commenting on suggestions that such a decision could be taken by BAE in the event of a Yes vote, BAE’s Charlie Blakemore said: “Anything is possible. It is just there is going to be a cost. It’s an option we have not explored in great detail.
“We do have the same skill sets in Portsmouth as we have here. They are just not available in the same depth and numbers.”
Other claims by Unionist politicians that an EU rule, known as Article 346, meant that a Yes vote would mean the Clyde would be automatically barred from being handed the Type 26 Frigate work without having to go through a tendering process, were dismissed last year when a UK Minister gave evidence to a House of Commons Committee.
Appearing in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, UK Minister Andrew Murrison said EU competition law – known as Article 346 – would allow for orders to be completed in Scotland provided the Westminster Government said it was for national security reasons.
Dr Murrison’s testimony was acutely embarrassing to Labour MP Ian Davidson who had previously said: “If Scotland was a separate country, then the Ministry of Defence could not use Article 346 to favour shipyards in Scotland because they would no longer be within the UK.”