Vice-Admiral undermines Unionist scaremongering over Scottish defence jobs


  By Bob Duncan
Repeated claims by Unionist politicians, that shipbuilding jobs would be destroyed in an independent Scotland as defence contracts from the rest of the UK would cease, have been dealt a blow as a senior naval commander denied that any such automatic bar would exist.
The Scottish Affairs Select Committee heard evidence this week from Vice-Admiral Andrew Mathews who confirmed that the UK Government would retain the option to continue the construction of Navy vessels on the Clyde after Scotland became independent.

Asked by Labour’s Ian Davidson MP, chairman of the select committee, whether the ships could be built on the Clyde if Scotland left the United Kingdom, Vice-Admiral Andrews said: “I think that is absolutely the case”.

Pressed by Davidson if this meant that construction of MoD orders already placed with a Clyde based yard would continue in the event of independence, Vice-Admiral Mathews added: “What I’m saying is that is one of the options open to us”.

The Vice-admiral’s evidence appears to contradict statements made by successive Defence Secretaries, including Philip Hammond, who have consistently claimed that only UK firms will be considered for such contracts.

The evidence is also at odds with the claim made by Labour’s shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy MP, who said in August: “One thing is crystal clear – the MoD hasn’t built a warship in a foreign country in living memory, so if we leave the UK, we leave the Royal Navy and lose its order book”.

Trade unionists at shipyards on the Clyde, have also said that without UK defence contracts the industry in Scotland “would be greatly reduced or, in fact, finished”.

In the same session of the select committee, Defence Minister Philip Dunne failed to correct errors in earlier evidence, given to the committee by the UK government  where it was stated that Scottish companies receive 10% of UK defence contracts.

In fact, a recent Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that businesses in Scotland gained only 5.3% of defence contracts that were exempt from EU legislation, an underspend of £1.8 billion over the last five years compared to Scotland’s population.

The SNP’s Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson MP has criticised the work of the select committee, saying:

“These comments have rightly undermined some of the wilder scaremongering that anti-independence politicians – including those on the Scottish Affairs Committee – have engaged in.

“The fact of the matter is that the skills and expertise available on the Clyde means that the yards there would continue to win and complete contracts in an independent Scotland.

“Perhaps Vice-Admiral Mathews’ comments will be a salutary lesson to the Scottish Affairs Committee and encourage them to actually provide some scrutiny of the Westminster Government instead of spending its days scaremongering and talking down Scotland.

“With the opportunity in front of them, why on earth did they fail to scrutinise the enormous underspend in defence contracts in Scotland that a recent FoI demonstrated, or the inconsistency in the evidence that Defence Ministers have previously given the Committee?

“The Scottish Affairs Committee seems to have gone from the farcical to the downright irresponsible, with its failure to do its job and hold the Westminster Government to account.

“People in Scotland would rightly have expected the Scottish Affairs Committee to extract answers today from the MoD on this glaring inconsistency, yet it appears that the Committee has little interest in conducting even this basic level of scrutiny.”


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