By Bob Duncan
Newly released documents have revealed how the the Rosyth Naval Dockyard in Fife was the victim of a pro-England bias at the heart of John Major’s Government.
The papers reveal the concern at the Scottish Office over what a high ranking official described as “anti-Rosyth” lobbying by the Ministry of Defence that led to decisions being taken that defied the objective advice available at the time.
The revelations, published in the Scotsman newspaper, show how contracts worth billions of pounds that would have meant work for thirty years were awarded to the Devonport yard in Plymouth, despite clear evidence showing that the logical choice should have been Rosyth.
Both dockyards were competing for the contract work and the previously classified files reveal a growing anger within the Scotland Office, with the then Secretary of State Iain Lang describing the awarding of the contract work to Devonport as “transparently indefensible”.
Hundreds of jobs were lost at Rosyth when the work went to England.
Commenting today, SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:
“These shocking documents reveal the MoD’s utter disregard for Scotland and its defence communities, exposing as they do, the desire to consolidate everything it possibly could in the South of England regardless of cost or logic.
“The alarming allegations that ‘deeply suspicious’ figures were being presented to the Secretary of State for Scotland by Malcolm Rifkind’s MoD means we can trust little they say. For people in Fife, the revelations about the MoD having an ‘anti-Rosyth’ lobby – as demonstrated by the way it was singled out as a base – will be nothing short of appalling.
“It was clearly a concerted effort by the MoD for the Rosyth shipyard to lose work in order to close the neighbouring naval base leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs. It is also now clear that warnings from the most senior Royal Navy officers in Scotland at the time that incorrect and misleading information was being used were raised – but to no avail.
“For Ian, now Lord Lang, then Scottish Secretary to suggest as he does in a letter to the prime minister John Major, that closing Rosyth would lead to defending the ‘transparently indefensible’ only adds to the chilling sense of cynicism.”
The documents release comes at a time when 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. A decision was expected last year, but this has been delayed, reportedly due to political pressure.
The yard in Portsmouth is widely believed to be the most vulnerable; however the release of the documents will lead to fears that pressure from the UK government will lead to one of the Glasgow yards suffering the same fate as Rosyth.
Mr Robertson added: “This litany of alarming letters and memos from the time is yet more evidence of the shameful and growing dossier of defence cuts and underspend in Scotland by successive Westminster governments.
“They make it clear that the anti-independence parties have been saying one thing in public and a completely different thing in private, and that has being going on for years and years. To come after yet more scare stories and utter fabrications were spread by the Labour dominated Scottish Affairs Select committee about the Clyde shipyards shows once again there is no low to which the anti-independence campaign will not stoop.
“It seems that the Ministry of Defence will not be content until the vast majority of the defence industry and personnel is heavily skewed in the South East and South West of England. This sorry episode is yet another illustration of why Scotland must make better decisions for itself with Independence – and a Yes vote in the referendum in 2014 is the only way to achieve that ”
The release of the documents 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.