By Martin Kelly
A report by the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee on the effect of independence on Scottish shipbuilding has been described as “shoddy and partisan” amid claims it has deliberately omitted evidence.
SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP seized on the omissions from the report of evidence by a leading naval commander and figures from the MoD that he claimed contradicted the report’s conclusions.
According to the Unionist dominated Committee, headed by controversial Labour MP Ian Davidson, shipyards on the Clyde will be “doomed” if Scotland becomes independent. The committee also claims that MoD contract work would disappear if Scots voted Yes in 2014.
However SNP MP Mr Robertson has highlighted evidence from Vice-Admiral Andrew Mathews who when giving evidence to the committee confirmed that the UK Government would retain the option to continue the construction of Navy vessels on the Clyde after Scotland became independent.
The report is also at odds with a recent disclosure from the MoD that businesses in Scotland suffered an underspend of £1.8 billion over the last five years. Despite a population which is around 9% of the UK total, Scottish firms won only 5.3% of defence contracts that were exempt from EU legislation.
In a detailed response, Mr Robertson said:
“This is a shoddy and partisan report from Ian Davidson, which brings the Westminster system in disrepute – it is not only unsupported by facts, but ignores the actual evidence provided to the committee. This Labour-led committee’s primary job is to scrutinise the UK Tory-led government – but it has shown itself to be nothing more than an extension of the Tory/Labour anti-independence campaign.
“Mr Davidson has airbrushed the evidence from Vice-Admiral Mathews that the UK Government would retain the option to continue the construction of Navy vessels on the Clyde after Scotland became independent.
“This report comes in the aftermath of Labour being caught out recycling phony figures about the number of jobs based at Faslane.”
Last week it emerged that claims by several Labour party figures, including Mr Davidson, on the number of people employed at the naval base at Faslane, had been exaggerated by thousands. Confirmation from the MoD led to one Scottish national newspaper printing a correction after it published an article based on the Labour party claims.
Mr Robertson added: “In reality, shipbuilders across Europe regularly get orders from other countries. France makes ships for Russia, and the UK has made frigates for Malaysia.
“And claims that the MoD would not award contracts for vessels overseas ignore the fact that a South Korean firm has been awarded the contract to build the Royal Navy’s next MARS fleet tanker.
“To illustrate the extent of this report’s dishonesty, last year the Defence Secretary admitted to an audience in Portsmouth that job losses in shipbuilding as part of the UK were ‘inevitable’, and that the UK Government could not guarantee the contracts for the Type 26 frigates would not go overseas! None of this is mentioned.
“With independence, Scotland would have a healthy order book. It is not the London government that makes Scotland’s shipyards successful – it is the second-to-none Scottish skills base and technical expertise that brings orders to the yards from all over the world, 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.
“It is extraordinary, at a time when the MoD admit that businesses in Scotland saw 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 – that this anti-independence committee is scaremongering over Scotland’s defence prospects. People in Scotland would rightly have expected the Scottish Affairs Committee to extract answers from the MoD on this glaring unfairness to Scotland, yet it appears that the committee has little interest in conducting even this basic level of scrutiny.
“The report does, however, reveal the reality of shipbuilding in the UK under Labour’s own terms of business agreement with BAE Systems, showing that only 1,500 jobs are to remain. Only Labour would claim the loss of 3,500 jobs as a success.
“A conference in Edinburgh recently suggested that a Scottish Navy would have some 20-25 ships and vessels, including frigates, offshore patrol vessels, minesweepers and various other miscellaneous assets – so independence will bring big 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 under the Union, we have in fact been victim of a defence downturn. The disastrous decisions made for Scotland by Westminster demonstrate the benefits and opportunities only offered by gaining independence.”