By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by anti-independence parties that Scottish shipbuilding jobs would be guaranteed if Scots vote No in the independence referendum have been dealt a blow after UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted that job losses in the sector are “inevitable” and that the UK Government has no control over where contracts will be awarded.
The Conservative MP made the admission in comments he gave to a regional newspaper in England about plans by contractor BAE to review its shipbuilding division.
Speaking to the Portsmouth News, the Defence Secretary said: “One of the downsides of big programmes like the carriers, which create lots of good news when they start, is that when they come to an end it inevitably means a downsizing of the overall workforce.
“Now, where that downsizing takes place is an issue for the company and I’m sure BAE are already discussing with their workforce their plans for the future.”
Mr Hammond added: “It’s explicitly not our decision where BAE builds the Type 26s. It’s a commercial decision they will have to make.”
The comments follow attacks by Unionist parties who say that Scottish shipbuilding jobs would be under threat if Scots opted to vote Yes in the 2014 independence referendum.
Tory Ministers, Peter Luff and David Mundell claimed that defence contracts would not go overseas and that jobs would be secure if Scotland remained in the Union.
The MPs told representatives of the Confederation of Ship Building and Engineering Unions that independence would mean Scottish shipyards could no longer bid for naval contracts from the rest of the UK.
However, Mr Hammond’s admission that the decision on where the Type 26 contract is placed is a commercial one for BAE, undermines any assertions made by Unionists that contracts will not go overseas. It also follows the awarding of a £500 million MoD naval contract to South Korea.
Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:
“The Tories have been caught red handed – telling Portsmouth one thing, and Scotland another. The scaremongering over job losses and MoD overseas orders have been exposed as the reality of the situation right now under the Union.
“The anti-independence parties scare stories are being sunk one by one. Last week we were warned that the MoD would never award contracts for military vessels overseas – ignoring the fact that a South Korean firm has been awarded the contract to build the Navy’s next MARS fleet tanker.
“In reality, shipbuilders across Europe regularly get orders from other countries. France makes ships for Russia, and the UK has made frigates for Malaysia.”
Mr Robertson insisted that an independent Scotland would “have a healthy order book” due to the skills and reputation of Scottish workers, and added:
“It is not the London government that makes the yards successful – it is the second-to-none Scottish skills base and technical expertise that brings orders to the yards, and that will continue under independence.
“In reality, and in all circumstances, Scottish yards will secure orders from around the world on the basis of their skills and formidable record of delivery.
“With independence, Scotland will dump the expensive and obscene Trident nuclear weapons, and invest in professional, conventional forces.
“A recent conference in Edinburgh suggested that a Scottish Navy would have about 20-25 ships and vessels, including frigates, offshore patrol vessels, minesweepers and various other miscellaneous assets – so independence will bring opportunities for our shipbuilding sector. Meanwhile, independent Norway, which has similar defence needs has over 70 vessels.
“It is clear that far from Scotland benefiting from a defence dividend with the Union, we have in fact been victim of a defence downturn. The disastrous decisions made for Scotland by Westminster demonstrate the modern benefits and opportunities offered by independence.”