Trade union convenors at job-loss shipyard contributed to Tory led campaign group

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Two trade union convenors from one of the Clydeside yards hit by hundreds of job losses have contributed to an anti-independence campaign website which is funded by a leading Conservative party donor.

Writing for the Better Together campaign in March this year, Duncan McPhee the UNITE Convenor at the Scotstoun Shipyard and John Dolan GMB Convenor at the same shipyard, jointly authored a piece in which they argued that being “better together” was good for Scottish shipbuilding.

In the article, entitled ‘A Future for Scottish Shipbuilding on the Clyde’, the two union officials wrote: “BAE has announced its intention to close one of its UK yards and the uncertainty of the independence referendum has put the Clyde shipyards at risk.”

They added: “We believe our industry is one of the best examples of why we are better together, because the benefits to being part of the UK are very real.”

The piece was written before BAE announced that 835 workers would lose their jobs at the two Glasgow based shipyards after Westminster slashed MoD spending.  Govan was considered for closure, but reprieved due to what BAE Systems said was the highly skilled nature of the workforce together with the capacity of the yard.

The decision by both men to support Better Together was made despite the Tory led campaign group having received much of its funding from Conservative party backer Ian Taylor.  In April it emerged that the Vitol Chief had given £500,000 to the campaign group.

GMB Convenor Mr Dolan’s show of support for Better Together was called into question in June this year when GMB Scotland boss Harry Donaldson said such a move on the part of the trade union would “betray” all that the GMB stood for.

Speaking at the union’s congress in June this year, Donaldson rejected calls for GMB Scotland to join the Better Together campaign which he said would was tantamount to “collaboration with the Tories – the architects of austerity – and that excuse for a party the Lib Dems.”

Donaldson also slammed the decision by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to join with the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the Better Together campaign, calling it “an own goal by the Labour party in Scotland,”

He added: “But to join with the Tories and Lib Dems would be to betray all that we stand for and have campaigned against in this proud union of ours.”

This week news that the workforce on the Clyde is to be reduced from 3200 to just under 2400 was met with shock.

In a bitter-sweet announcement it emerged that Portsmouth would no longer continue building ships, a move which left the two Clyde yards as the only locations capable of building the remaining Royal Navy orders.

Following the job losses confirmation, Unite official Duncan McPhee, despite having previously used the shipyards in a pro-Union article on Better Together, complained that shipbuilding was being used as a political football in the constitutional debate.

“There’s no doubt it’s being used as a political football in the referendum debate,” McPhee said.

However, McPhee then sought to use the closure of Portsmouth in order to attack independence, and added: “In fact, if they had given this to Portsmouth, that would have been a gift to the independence people.”

It was also confirmed this week by UK defence Secretary Philip Hammond that the Tories, when they came to power in 2010, tried to cancel the aircraft carrier work taking place on the Clyde and were only prevented from doing so by penalty clauses in the contract.

However, even following news of the 835 job losses on the Clyde and the knowledge that had the Conservatives succeeded in cancelling the aircraft carrier work then Govan may well have been forced to close, McPhee repeated his claim that remaining in the Union would protect Scottish shipbuilding.

His statement which appeared on the Better Together site read:

“If Scotland decides to become independent from the UK the shipyards at Scotstoun and Govan will lose their only customer.

“The UK MoD made it clear that they will not place orders for complex naval ships to be built outside the UK.  This means that BAE Systems would have to construct the future Type 26 Global Combat Ships at their shipyards in the UK.

“There is no prospect for export orders, so the only potential customer would be the Scottish Government who have not indicated if they would order any ships to be constructed for a potential Scottish Navy.

“It is hard to see any future for the Scottish shipyards if they lose their only customer and there are no credible alternative ships to be ordered.”

Claims by Unionists that the possibility of independence posed the biggest threat to shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde were discredited when BAE systems revealed that a lack of orders from the Royal Navy had led to a decision to restructure their business across the UK.

The Scottish Government has argued that whilst naval orders should form part of the shipbuilding contracts in Scotland that – with Royal Navy orders nearing their end – there was now a need to diversify.

Claims from Unionists that Scotland could not support shipbuilding if independent have been challenged with the example of Norway being presented.  Norway manages to sustain a whopping forty two shipyards, employing over 20,000 people.  Last year they built 110 ships between them.

The closure of Portsmouth means that Govan and Scotstoun are now the only yards capable of building the last of the Royal navy orders, which are Type 26 Frigates.  The UK Government is currently seeking foreign partners in order to build more of the vessels which use a specially designed template in order to keep costs down.

The Scottish Government has said it intends to support the Scottish shipbuilding industry in whatever way it can.  It has already signalled its intention to commission vessels similar to that being ordered by the Royal Navy, should Scotland become independent.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary John Swinney will visit BAE Systems in Scotstoun early on Friday morning to meet with directors and union representatives at the Scottish Yards.