By Martin Kelly
The SNP has called for a positive debate on defence in an independent Scotland after what they claim were wildly exaggerated claims that appeared across the Scottish media regarding the future of the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
In a statement released after news stories appeared in the Herald, the Scotsman and the BBC, suggesting up to 19,000 jobs would be lost if Trident was removed from Scotland, the nationalists pointed to official information already published by Westminster that discredited the claims.
The SNP also challenged suggestions that moving the nuclear arsenal from Scotland would require a £3.5bn refit to HM Naval Base Devonport, in Plymouth.
According to one newspaper article, the UK Government has insisted that removing Trident from Scotland “….would cost at least £3.5 billion and take a long time” adding “Any replication of facilities would cost at least that much and probably more.”
However, an official answer given by Defence Minister Philip Dunne last month stated that there are actually more authorised berths at HM Naval Base Devonport, in Plymouth, than on the Clyde.
Asked by Angus Robertson MP, how many nuclear-powered submarines can be berthed simultaneously at HM Naval Base Devonport? Mr Dunne replied:
“Up to eight operational submarines can be accommodated at the wharves and jetties at Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Devonport. A further four operational submarines can be accommodated at mooring buoys and anchorages, which are used for temporary berthing in the Naval Base waters. Additional operational submarines can be accommodated at Babcock Marine’s collocated dockyard.
“There is also capacity at HMNB Devonport for further nuclear-powered submarines that have left service and are in afloat storage.”
Today’s reports followed statements from Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee Chairman Ian Davidson who claimed the UK’s entire submarine fleet would be removed following independence, with a loss of up to 8000 jobs.
According to the Labour MP, who himself supports the removal of nuclear weapons, “The burden of proof now passes to the SNP to explain how they will fill this huge gap.”
Speaking in the Scotsman, Mr Davidson added: “Remaining within the UK would not only retain the existing 6,700 jobs at Faslane but would increase employment to 8,200 by 2022.”
However confusion surrounds the jobs figures claimed by Unionist politicians with differences of up to 13,000 in evidence. The Scotsman article contains an upper rate figure of 8,200. In another article in the Herald, the number of job losses is put at a whopping 19,000 which is over double the figure in the Scotsman.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose constituency encompasses the naval base, recently claimed that 11,000 jobs were reliant on the nuclear arsenal. In October last year, Tory defence minister Philip Hammond put the figure at just over 6000.
Responding to a recent Freedom of Information request by CND Scotland, the MoD revealed that just 520 jobs were directly dependent on the Trident fleet based on the Clyde. According to official figures, of the 520 only 159 are employed by the Ministry of Defence and 361 are employed by contractors.
Speaking last October, SCND co-ordinator, John Ainslie said: “Both Labour and Conservative politicians are trying to scare the public by exaggerating the economic implications of nuclear disarmament,”
He added: “The loss of 520 posts would be a serious blow to those directly affected, but far more jobs would be created if the same money was spent on anything else.”
Describing the latest Unionist claims regarding Trident as “scaremongering from the Westminster Government”, SNP Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson responded by saying that it was time for anti-independence politicians to live up to their commitment to run a positive and honest campaign in 2013.
According to the SNP, any figures produced by supporters of the Trident nuclear weapons system ignores the number of jobs that are not created elsewhere in the economy by spending such large sums of money on weapons of mass destruction. A report by the STUC noted that renewing Trident will actually cost Scotland jobs – rather than protect them.
In 2007, a report commissioned by the Scottish TUC and CND challenged claims that Trident renewal would create an additional 3000 jobs. According to the study, the renewal of Trident would see a reduction in the Scottish block grant of £85 million per year for fifteen years which would in fact harm Scottish employment and lead to a loss of thousands of jobs.
At the weekend, Labour’s referendum campaign manager Anas Sarwar admitted that people will not be won over by negative scare stories on independence, and pledged that Better Together would fight a more positive campaign in 2013.
Commenting, SNP Westminster leader Mr Robertson said:
“Another day, another scare story from the anti-independence parties, but these claims have already been discredited countless times before – even by the UK Government themselves!
“Answers obtained from the Westminster Government either through Parliamentary questions or Freedom of Information make quite clear that Plymouth actually has more capacity for the nuclear submarines that the Clyde – and that the jobs dependent on Trident are around 500 – not 8,000 as they have claimed today.
“The Scottish Affairs Committee already explored this issue in depth – and even they found that the weapons of mass destruction could be removed from Scotland’s waters within a matter of months, not many years as the UK Government have once again tried to claim. This doesn’t fit in with their agenda, so the UK Government have completely ignored it.”
Mr Robertson insisted that a sovereign independent Scotland would be better off concentrating its defence spend on conventional naval hardware, which is currently lacking in Scotland and is concentrated in the south east of England.
He added: “The reality is that Trident is a jobs destroyer. The STUC have themselves noted that the huge financial outlay in renewing Trident will actually cost Scotland jobs – rather than safeguard them – with vital resources diverted from elsewhere in the economy.
“Faslane has a bright future in an independent Scotland has the home of Scotland’s conventional naval force – and the SNP will continue to make this positive case.
“Anas Sarwar himself said that the so-called Better Together campaign will be raising the level of debate in 2013 and ensuring Scotland gets the level of debate it deserves – yet within days they’ve already resorted to the same discredited – and frankly dishonest – scare stories.
“Trident is not wanted by either Scotland’s Parliament or Scotland’s people – if they want to fight a positive campaign this year, perhaps the anti-independence parties could begin by acknowledging this.”
[Newsnet comment – Today has been a poor day for the independence debate and the Scottish media. Scare stories are now dominating the political news agenda with barely a nod to basic journalistic scrutiny. Scots have now been told that the Trident nuclear weapons system can both be removed within a year and will remain here for decades. That berths already exist at Devonport but that over £3.5 bn will be needed to build the facilities.
That Labour politicians who themselves support the removal of nuclear weapons can appear on radio programmes arguing against their removal – without challenge – beggars belief. The claims on job losses range from 6000 to an unbelievable 19,000 – again the 13,000 difference blithely ignored.
Meanwhile, a ridiculous and almost economically insane suggestion that whisky be taxed one pound a bottle in Scotland is reported widely by BBC Scotland along with repeated references to “Alex Salmond” – thus creating the illusion, and implanting the subliminal suggestion, that the First Minister is somehow linked to this prepostrous idea.
2013 has barely begun and already we can see a further deterioration in the level of debate on the part of Unionists and the plummetting standards that has caused Scotland’s so called quality newspapers to head for oblivion. BBC Scotland is also showing no signs of addressing the mess it is in and one is left with the conclusion that passive observation of the broadcaster’s deterioration is not now an option … watch this space.]