Just who is using the shipyard workers as political footballs?


  By G.A.Ponsonby
This week BAE Systems confirmed that 835 Scottish workers were surplus to requirements at the company’s yards on the Clyde.
The naval orders which have helped sustain Govan and Scotstoun have now all but dried up.  The UK is broke and the days of MoD spending on big money projects is over.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
This week BAE Systems confirmed that 835 Scottish workers were surplus to requirements at the company’s yards on the Clyde.
The naval orders which have helped sustain Govan and Scotstoun have now all but dried up.  The UK is broke and the days of MoD spending on big money projects is over.

So financially strapped is the UK that one of the Aircraft Carriers the Clydeside Yards have been working on will most likely never enter service.  All that awaits both yards are promises of three patrol boats and a possible order for thirteen Type 26 Frigates.

In short, as things stand there seems to be a short term future for Clydeside shipbuilding, but beyond that there is some doubt hanging over orders for Type 26 Frigates.  The decision on where to place the orders, says the UK Government, will not be taken until after the independence referendum.

It is of course a game of bluff by Unionists who are reduced now to holding Scottish jobs to ransom.  Vote No or Clydeside gets it!, is the message.

It’s also not even certain that the Type 26 Frigates promised will materialise.  As George Kerevan pointed out on Friday, the MoD initially envisaged twelve Type 45s which went down to eight and finally six because of a lack of cash.  There’s no certainty that the much lauded Type 26s won’t suffer the same fate.

Westminster has effectively served to create a situation where the industry in Scotland is in decline.  The current coalition would have closed Govan and kept Portsmouth open had it been possible and it’s just played a central role in cutting 835 jobs from the Clyde.

Indeed pretty much everybody seems to forget that the current Westminster Government tried to cancel the Aircraft Carrier contracts when they took power in 2010, only to find out that the cost of cancellation was more than the cost of continuing.

In 2012 the UK Government scuppered a plan for a merger between BAE Systems and the Franco-German owner of Airbus, EADS, which would have opened up new markets for Scottish Shipbuilding.  Forty five Conservative MPs had written to David Cameron urging him to block the move because BAE would only own 40% of the new company with EADS owning 60%.

It’s these decisions that makes the anti-independence rantings from trade union leaders at the Clydeside yards all the more bizarre.  At a time when your own members and work colleagues are looking from left to right wondering who will be chosen to fill the 835 places, these trade unionists have been launching political attacks at the Scottish Government, in particular Nicola Sturgeon.

The moment the announcement of the latest round of job losses was confirmed by BAE and the Westminster government, GMB Convenor at Scotstoun John Dolan started yelping about workers being used as political footballs in the referendum debate.

Dolan attacked Nicola Sturgeon in an article in the Scotsman newspaper, accusing the Deputy First Minister of using “using” the shipyard workers.

“We are not a political football, you cannot play with people’s jobs.  We laid it on the line.  Stop using us.  Stop telling people that we are safe, so people become complacent.” He was reported to have said.

This is the same John Dolan who, back in March on the day the last Type 45 vessel was handed over, wrote an article with his Unite contemporary Duncan McPhee arguing against independence, claiming it would harm Scottish shipbuilding.

The article, which appeared on the Better Together website, followed a video featuring workers at the yards some of whom proclaimed their own belief that we were indeed ‘better together’.  One can only wonder if any of these workers will be amongst the 835 to lose their jobs.

Dolan’s own union the GMB, last week told a newspaper that it intended to back the No campaign.  This despite a consultation it held being revealed to have been a sham with some meetings apparently not advertised and one attracting a grand total of five people.

There’s an anti-independence agenda being waged and Dolan and his own union officials are right at the centre, using their members as political pawns.

Anyone who followed statements from politicians last week will know that it was Unionist MPs who were almost exclusively vocal in trying to deflect away from the 835 job losses and onto the referendum.  Alistair Carmichael, who is supposed to fight Scotland’s corner in Cabinet meetings, couldn’t wait to threaten Dolan’s workers with redundancy should they have the temerity to vote Yes.

The Lib Dem MP turned up in a local newspaper south of the border telling workers at the Portsmouth yard that they were “well placed” for the contract in the event of Scottish independence.

He went further in the Scotland on Sunday saying: “Nicola Sturgeon is looking pretty isolated on this. The best thing she could do is admit that she is wrong,”

He added: “Is she really saying that everyone else is wrong and she is right? Is she telling us that the people who build the warships and the people who place the contracts know less about this than she does?

“The Scottish Government are very fond of their assertions on independence. On this occasion their bluff has been well and truly called by the people who know best – the shipyard workers on the Clyde.”

Again, it is worth reminding readers that 835 workers are to lose their jobs, yet rather than try to argue for any defence contracts to be honoured – remember people may decide to leave the industry in the face of these No campaign threats – Carmichael continues to lash out at the Scottish Government. 

John Dolan was saying something similar days before.  Referring again to Nicola Sturgeon he said: “She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town.  I’m afraid it is not,

“Portsmouth is still alive.  It doesn’t close until next year some time.  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.”

Taking Dolan’s words at face value, he appears to believe that the Type 26 Frigates could be awarded to any number of yards outside Scotland.  If true, this reveals an alarming naivety on the part of the trade union official.  Does this man really believe the words of a Conservative Government which has a history of double dealing on matters of defence when it comes to Scotland versus England?

Remember Rosyth versus Devonport where the lucrative contract eventually went down South despite the commercial argument having been clearly won by Rosyth.

It has also emerged that for the last year UK Prime Minister David Cameron was looking for a way, any way, to keep the Portsmouth shipbuilding yard open.  If Dolan is to be believed then Portsmouth can be resurrected shortly after the independence referendum.

This resurrection can take place whether Scots vote Yes or No and such is the anger down south over the decision to close the yard then it’s likely to become a major feature of the 2015 UK General election.

There has been no confirmation that Govan and Scotstoun will be awarded the Type 26 Frigates, it has merely been implied.  There is every possibility that a No vote will see Portsmouth miraculously saved and a considerable amount spent on refurbishing the plant in order ensure it is capable of building Type 26s.

How to fund the upgrade work?  Well it’s already common knowledge that all three London based parties favour scrapping the Barnet system that calculates Scotland’s block grant.  Basically Scotland gets a proportion of whatever the Westminster government decides to spend in England.  When that ends then the savings made by cutting Scotland’s grant will amount to several hundred millions.

It may not come to pass of course, but Dolan’s belief that Portsmouth will not be closed down completely, leaves it a distinct possibility.  It’s against a backdrop such as this that the union official ought to be puting his members interests first and working with the Scottish Government instead of using the situation in order to pursue his own dogmatic pro-Labour/pro-Union adenda.

What Dolan and his union colleagues should be doing is trying to find ways to diversify and to persuade the company it needs to collaborate.  Even with a No vote, and even if Glasgow builds all of the Type 26s, these MoD orders will dry up.  A slow death awaits the yards on the Clyde unless something changes.

And this is where the other Unionist line of attack comes into play – they suggest that the Scottish yards cannot diversify, that the skills required are beyond the Clydeside workers.  It’s not only defeatist, it’s also a slap in the face for the Scottish workers.

One of the commentators who popped up last week was the Union supporting former Labour party official Alf Young.  Young appeared on the BBC [again] last week with his now routine attacks on independence, and parroting the predictable pro-Labour line on the shipbuilding situation.

He also drafted an article attacking the notion that Scotland could emulate Norway’s very successful shipbuilding sector. 

Here’s a snippet from Alf Young’s article:

“The dominant part of Norway’s shipbuilding success, as hailed by Ms Sturgeon, is now Italian owned and competing internally with lower cost yards elsewhere. And Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, is procuring its current generation of drilling rigs from another South Korean group, Samsung.”

Of course Norwegian companies will sometimes commission work beyond the country’s borders, all countries do.  They strike a balance by mixing their skillsets and evolving so as not to get caught in the very predicament that has afflicted Scottish yards for years – a reliance on one customer ordering one type of product.

In Alf Young’s world Norway doesn’t really have a thriving shipbuilding industry and presumably doesn’t employ thousands of workers.  His fundamental belief in unionism means that he has to find reasons not to look beyond the world he has constructed for himself over the decades.

Both Young and Dornan display the classic traits of tribalism.  Neither is able to accept that Scottish shipbuilding has been decimated whilst we remain in the Union.  Neither is able to accept that Scottish shipbuilding will eventually die if we do not diversify.

It’s not just Norway that has a viable and thriving shipbuilding sector, Holland is just as buoyant.

The Union has now served to pit English workers in Portsmouth against Scottish workers in Glasgow.  A very unhealthy situation is emerging that could have repercussions beyond shipbuilding.

The anger felt in England at what they see as Scotland receiving special treatment won’t go away.  Marry it to the myth perpetrated by Scottish Unionists that Scotland is subsidised and you have the ingredients for some very unsavoury grievances that will manifest into xenophobia.

One final point.  Even should Scotland vote Yes in 2014, we won’t be independent for some twenty months afterwards.  We will still own around nine per cent of UK’s assets which of course will include the contract for the Type 26s and their design templates.

The Scottish government would be well within its rights to demand that, given Govan and Scotstoun’s state of readiness, that work commences on at least the first of the Frigates on the Clyde as scheduled.

Thereafter it will be able to start commissioning patrol vessels for the naval arm of a new Scottish Defence Force.  Meanwhile the government in London will have to try to come to terms with life without North Sea Oil and a hundred billion pound headache called Trident.  Funny how Carmichael and his colleagues in Better Together haven’t threatened to remove nuclear weapons in the event of a Yes vote.

If Westminster wants to keep Trident in Scotland until a safe location can be found south of the border then let’s see how we can accommodate one another.