The decision to end naval ship building in Portsmouth was political

There was more than a whiff of politics last week as BAE systems took the decision to end ship building in Portsmouth in favour of the Clyde.

There was more than a whiff of politics last week as BAE systems took the decision to end ship building in Portsmouth in favour of the Clyde.

Workers at the home of HMS Victory cried foul, declaring that their jobs had been sacrificed in order to give the UK government a carrot to wave in front of Scottish voters, achievable only if they opted to stay in the union.

Nonsense claimed the UK government. According to ministers in Whitehall, this was a simple commercial decision – one that was about what made economic sense rather than playing politics.

After this weekend, however, there can be little doubt that the decision to bring to an end all naval ship building in Portsmouth was political.

Writing in the Scottish Express on Sunday, the former Scottish and defence secretary Lord (John) Reid has made clear that the new ships that the Royal Navy needs building will only come to the Clyde if Scotland votes to remain within the UK.

“The wider lesson from the last few days” he wrote, “is that the only way to secure the future of Scotland’s shipyards is to remain in the UK. This is not a matter of political opinion – it is a matter of fact.”

“It is a fact that since the Second World War no UK government of any political stripe has ever commissioned the building of a warship in a foreign country. It is a fact that for security, as well as economic and political, reasons we build these ships here at home in the UK.

“In short, we don’t build warships abroad now – and what’s left of the UK wouldn’t do so if Scotland separated.”

Writing in the Herald on Sunday, however, Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon argued that the UK’s ships can and should be built on the Clyde, whatever the result of next year’s referendum.

“The current UK government has just agreed with BAE Systems that Portsmouth will cease building ships in 2014, and that Glasgow is ‘the most effective location for the manufacture of the future Type 26 ships’. That will remain true, whether there is a Yes next year or not,” she said.

But calling for Ms Surgeon to admit that she is ‘wrong’, Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael seemed to tread a different, more political path on the ship building debate than that trodden by the current defence secretary last week. Responding to the deputy first minister’s article, he commented:

“Nicola Sturgeon is looking pretty isolated on this.

“Is she really saying that everyone else is wrong and she is right? Is she telling us that the people who build the warships and the people who place the contracts know less about this than she does?”

“The future of the Clyde yards is sustainable as part of a large and successful United Kingdom. Brilliant workers and the best complex warships in the world, it is a great combination and we should not break it.”

2 Responses to “The decision to end naval ship building in Portsmouth was political”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Sort of a carrot, sort of a stick and both sides have chosen – not surprisingly – to talk rubbish. Sturgeon cannot be sure that a future Westminster government would stick by any commitment to have BAE actually build the ships that they are currently designing and certainly not on the basis of it being a good business decision – when did any government ever really take that into consideration?
    It is true that no government since WW2 has had warships built outside the UK, but they have come close to it with RFAs and patrol vessels. The claim that building warships in foreign yards would be prevented by law is- at best – disingenuous, as is the claim that BAE’s Clyde yards would get no orders in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. There is only a tiny handful of countries that can build frigates, but there are scores of countries that want to buy them. Most of those countries won’t want something as advanced or as expensive as a single type 26; they’ll want more basic vessels in greater numbers but there is a pretty good argument that volume of sale would be better for the industry anyway.
    As for Carmichael….he seems to be trying to make himself redundant from what is now the only safe lib-dem seat in Scotland. Perhaps he wants the hefty pay-off that gets handed out to MPs whose constituents fire them via the ballot-box.

  2. franwhi

    And there’s a bigger political whiff coming from Alistair Carmichael as one of only a handful of Scottish MPs to vote for the Bedroom Tax. He’s looking pretty isolated on that in north Britain and hoping we’ve all forgotten.

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