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.”

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