By Martin Kelly
A BBC Scotland reporter has claimed that a Yes vote in the 2014 independence referendum could harm the prospects of shipbuilding in Scotland.
BBC Scotland’s Business and Economy Editor Douglas Fraser was considering the political fall-out following a shock announcement of job losses at BAE shipyards when he told listeners to Radio Scotland that the threat of a Yes vote meant the case can be made for the MoD to award shipbuilding contracts to yards south of the border.
He said: “The case can be made that if the rest of the UK wants to maintain the capacity to build ships it may want to favour Portsmouth because if there’s a Yes vote and Scotland becomes independent, the Clyde could look like a foreign country from the point of view of the Ministry of Defence.”
The BBC reporter’s claim that ‘foreign Scotland’ could be blocked from winning naval contracts from the remainder of the UK echo similar claims from pro-Union politicians.
In January this year, Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson said that shipbuilding on the Clyde would end if Scotland was independent. The MP warned: “…leave the UK, and Scottish shipyards are doomed.”
The claim from the BBC reporter that a Yes vote could threaten Scottish shipbuilding coincided with news that hundreds of jobs are expected to go at the two shipbuilding yards on the Clyde. Both Govan and Scotstoun will join Portsmouth in an expected announcement from BAE systems that over 1000 jobs are to be cut by the firm.
The job losses will be a significant blow to anti-independence campaigners who have claimed that keeping shipbuilding on the Clyde is reliant on a No vote in 2014.
Last month UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond claimed that independence would mark “the end of shipbuilding in Scotland”.
Mr Hammond added: “There are thousands and thousands of jobs which depend upon the orders placed by the Ministry of Defence and no-one in the SNP has explained how they would replace those jobs in a world where only the orders of the Scottish defence force were available to that industry.”
However with orders from the MoD drying up and job losses now certain, the chances of both yards remaining open if Scotland remains in the UK look bleak.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon disputed claims that independence would end shipbuilding on the Clyde.
“Scotland is a maritime nation. If you look at countries similar to Scotland, like Norway, they have got much bigger shipbuilding industries than we do so there’s no reason why both of these yards shouldn’t have a secure, long-term future,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon, who is also the MSP for parts of the Govan constituency added: “This is a very worrying time. Any talk of perhaps hundreds of job losses is of real concern to the people employed in these yards and right now the most important thing is for them to be given clarity.”
The only outstanding MoD contracts remaining are for Type 26 Frigates, which have yet to be awarded.
In an ironic twist it has emerged that the UK Government has been seeking orders from foreign governments for the new Type 26 Frigate, with a hope that some would be built in the UK.
In September BAE Systems confirmed to Bloomberg news that they were in talks with eight interested countries for thirty of the vessels. Construction of the ships would follow the same low cost template design especially commissioned by the UK Government in order to attract foreign buyers.
Construction of the Type 26 Frigates is not expected to begin until 2016, which means a gap in naval orders for all three UK yards – regardless of which one wins the contract.