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Wings Over Scotland

A dilemma for the Tories

Posted on November 26, 2012 by

Most newspapers today are reporting concerns over the future of the UK’s three remaining naval shipyards, located in Portsmouth on the south coast of England, and at Govan and Scotstoun on the Clyde. Owners BAE Systems have strongly hinted that at least one is likely to close, with a decision expected by the end of 2012, and the two Glasgow yards (which more or less face each other across the river) tend to be treated as a single unit.

The relevance of the outcome to the independence debate is obvious. Shipbuilding on the Clyde has long been a totemic feature of the argument for the Union, with Labour and Conservatives alike long having insisted that there would be no chance of the rUK commissioning warships from an independent Scotland – Labour MP Ian Davidson is quoted today saying that very thing:

“Obviously if Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom, then the terms of business would preclude any orders for the Type 26 being placed on the Clyde.”

So the problem for the Westminster government is clear: shut the Clyde yards, handing the SNP and the Yes campaign huge propaganda victories, or shut Portsmouth, costing thousands of jobs in an almost entirely Tory area where only one of the seats currently held by the party (Gosport, a majority of 15,000) could be classed as “safe”.

It’s difficult to picture a world in which the Conservatives would sacrifice 5000 jobs in their own heartland in order to save 3000 in Glasgow, but to not do so would be to torpedo the “Better Together” campaign to devastating effect – an option which the party may find more tolerable if only because the explosion would also damage Labour in its biggest remaining Scottish stronghold.

Of course, the independence movement gets a big stick to beat the Union with in either case – were Portsmouth to be closed, the rUK would be left with no facilities for warship construction at all, making the threats of the likes of Ian Davidson sound even more hollow. Non-combat vessels are one thing, but would the rUK really commission its battleships, frigates and aircraft carriers from the other side of the world rather than a tried-and-trusted contractor a few miles across the border – particularly if it was seeking co-operation from its neighbour over the location of Trident submarines while London found somewhere in its own waters to base them?

Not only shipyard workers will be awaiting the decision with trepidation.

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    51 to “A dilemma for the Tories”

    1. Macart says:

      Its a pickle and no mistake. 🙂

    2. pa_broon says:

      I assumed they’d close the yards on the clyde and blame it on the uncertainty being created by the referendum.

      (Even although, I think UK shipbuilding days are going to be over soon anyway if things remain the same. I don’t think we can say we’ll know what will happens to ship building in an independent Scotland. I would like to think a Scottish goverenment would put in place favourable conditions for it to continue, but you never know.)

    3. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

      Anybody still wonder why the Unionists wanted a quick referendum?

      Ian Davidson cannae gie the tories a doin-their his new pals.   

    4. Iain says:

      It’s actually a very finely balanced choice.
      If Westminster does go for a closure on the Clyde I’d seriously start swaying towards the Scottish Skier hypoththesis that Cameron & Co really are working on the basis of a ‘Yes’ vote on the referendum & stuff Labour for a generation. Of course he doesn’t want to be seen as the UK pm who presided over the break up of the UK, but copious amounts of ‘we must listen to the settled will of the Scottish people’. ‘hard decisions’, ‘with great sadness’ etc should be enough to cover his embarassment. Cameron can spout copious amounts of that type of guff without breaking a sweat.

    5. Aplinal says:

      It really is a dilemma, but as I wrote over on the herald site – not sure if it passed moderation – I think it’s inconceivable that Portsmouth would close for exactly the reason in the article, rUK would need an rUK “safe” base for future shipbuilding.   I imagine there is heated “discussions” underway between Westminster and BAe systems, remind me, how many ex-MPs have some form of connection to BAe?

    6. Dcanmore says:

      If a Scottish yard closes then it will say to Scotland that you are an insignificant part of the UK and protecting Tory heartlands is paramount. Better Together might as well call it a day if that happens leaving the NO campaign to Ruthy, the Orange Order (DUP) and the BNP. There will be a lot of behind the scenes lobbying going on with these Tory MPs in Portsmouth. If that Portsmouth yard goes then the nearest major warship yard is Blohm + Voss in Hamburg, and they do everything. The right-wing English press would slaughter the Tories over Portsmouth.

    7. Tris says:

      I think Pa is right. They will close Scotland and blame it on uncertainty. 

      In the future there can’t be many ships to be built for a shrinking military. And any ships that do not involve top secret  parts will be built in Asia, where it is much cheaper. I believe they already are.

      I suspect that Portsmouth will have to close, or be much reduced in size in the next few years. 

    8. Haartime says:

      Jim Murphy in a roundabout way said this on BBC GMS 2hrs 09mins in. The rUK will not build ships in a ‘foreign’ country. He thinks this is the case he thinks Portsmouth should argue.
      Good analysis Rev Stu

    9. Silverytay says:

      I have just posted on this very story over on newsnet .
      We have to be very careful about making light on this story . We have to think about the devastation this will bring to the people and their family,s whatever yard is closed .
      While I appreciate that the unionists are caught between a rock and a hard place of their own making over this ,if we really believe in a better Scotland our thoughts have to go out to the family,s who are going to be affected by this decision .

    10. Macart says:

      Ideally you wouldn’t want to see anyone lose their jobs, but BAe are a business in the middle of a world recession and they have a choice to make with a shit load of political pressure attached. Personally I’ll be stunned (and delighted) if both parts of the Scottish operation survive. But for the reasons ably outlined above, I’d reckon on Portsmouth surviving.

    11. Doug Daniel says:

      It’s a tough one. For the Tories, there are negative consequences in scrapping the Portsmouth yard regardless of whether Scotland votes to become independent or not – if we do, rUK is left without a yard; if we don’t, the Tories have made themselves unpopular in key constituencies for no reason. Conversely, the negative consequences of scrapping a Glasgow yard only exist if it increases the likelihood of us voting for indy, which is already a big “risk”.

      It may, in the end, all come down to how likely the Tories think it is that we’ll vote for independence. They won’t win any votes in Scotland whatever they do, and their mates in the City of London need a Tory government at Westminster far more than they need a UK to include Scotland.

      If it’s decided we’re probably going to vote for independence, the Tories will cut their losses and preserve their south-east vote, as well as preventing a yardless rUK. Removing the politics from the decision, it would actually be completely irresponsible to do anything else.

      The likes of Jim Murphy will tell us this is a result of all that damaging uncertainty independence brings. This is wrong, of course; this dilemma is a result of the uncertainty of whether Scotland will remain in the UK or not – it is categorically NOT uncertainty about how Scotland would fare under independence. The uncertainty that is leading to this situation can only be removed by not having a referendum and pledging that Scotland will not leave the UK. However, that ship sailed (excuse the pun) the second Scotland decided to give the SNP a chance as a minority government in 2007, if not sooner.

      In actual fact, this is an example of the uncertainty brought about by being in the UK, where Scottish jobs are all-too often sacrificed for those in England. It’s also another example of Gordon Brown’s policies putting off the inevitable, since without the phoney aircraft carriers order, this decision would have had to come sooner.

      Incidentally, while the easiest resolution for the Tories would be to grant BAE some orders for unneeded ships, like Gordon Brown did, I don’t think that will happen. That in itself would be political dynamite.

    12. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

      Silverytay: nobody here has “made light of” the story. Thousands of job losses anywhere are bad news. But this is one of the no-win scenarios that governments sometimes just have to face, like the SNP did recently over NATO. The Unionist press would have spun that against the SNP whichever way the vote went, and similarly there’s no way out of this for the UK government but to make the decision and take the consequences. 

    13. Embradon says:

      How many of these “Global Combat Ships” can the UK or rUK afford?
      What are they for?
      Does building them depend on being able to flog one of the aircraftless carriers?
      Will any ever be built at all?
      A Scottish Defence Force would need ships appropriate to national defence not global posturing and offense. We would therefore most likely have a substantial shipbuilding requirement.

    14. John Lyons says:

      Excuse me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it BAE who will be closing a shipyard? In which case it’s their decision and not that of the British Government???

      Yes, of course, the Government can try to pressure/influence the decision, but really if BAE decide to shut down one or both Scottish sites, can’t the Tories just shrug and point the finger at the company that is actually doing the closing?
      Revs Last remark is spot on, but this time watch the press around the country try to spin possitively for their unionist masters…

    15. TheeForsakenOne says:

      The Tories, and by extension Better Together, have made this rod for their own backs. It had been hinted that this was coming for months and months, but still they were banging the drum about the uncertainty in jobs. From the looks of it, Portsmouth is still the favourite to close but don’t be surprised if you seem factions of each party lobbying BAE to close a Glasgow one, and others lobbying to close Portsmouth. Either way it’s bad for the Tories, but somehow my gut tells me that they’ll take the hit at Portsmouth (Assuming BAE haven’t already made their minds up.)

    16. peter says:

      every GE we’re told that Independence will result in job loses in the shipyards, yet these loses continue whilst being part of the Union. 

    17. dadsaramy says:

      Well, from defence management:

      Industry experts believe the BAE facility at Portsmouth is most at risk since many of the shipyard’s 1,500 workers are temporary staff rather than fulltime employees. The Navy’s base at Portsmouth, where BAE also does repairs, is not at risk

      And this makes sense in other ways too. The rUK may have to put into effect plan B around Trident – and perhaps they intend working on this in advance at Portsmouth. Plan A of course is FUD, misinformation, disinformation, to convince all us numpties to vote NO.

      It doesn’t tie the rUK’s hand to having ships made in Scotland, as they can be made elsewhere, but perhaps bargaining is already going on – we keep Scotland open, you give us time to move Trident.

      Who knows.

    18. dadsarmy says:

      Well, from defence management:

      Industry experts believe the BAE facility at Portsmouth is most at risk since many of the shipyard’s 1,500 workers are temporary staff rather than fulltime employees. The Navy’s base at Portsmouth, where BAE also does repairs, is not at risk

      And this makes sense in other ways too. The rUK may have to put into effect plan B around Trident – and perhaps they intend working on this in advance at Portsmouth. Plan A of course is FUD, misinformation, disinformation, to convince all us numpties to vote NO.

      It doesn’t tie the rUK’s hand to having ships made in Scotland, as they can be made elsewhere, but perhaps bargaining is already going on – we keep Scotland open, you give us time to move Trident.

      Who knows. Oops, spelt Name wrong Rev, so this is a dupe

    19. Dcanmore says:

      @John Lyons …
      You are partly right, but BAE are a defence contractor and rely on government defence expenditure so they’ve hit on hard times due to mostly the Defence Review White Paper 2010 which cut the number of surface ships, scrapped the Harriers and the new-build Nimrods. The ships supplied by BAE for the UK are very complex (cannot be built at Portsmouth), but are so because of Government requirements (keeping up with the Joneses = USA) so the UK requirements are not suited to other smaller or less developed navies and cannot sell on those designs abroad unlike the more flexible designs from the French and Germans.

    20. Dcanmore says:

      In the end BAE are a global private business and they need to do what’s good for themselves regardless of the politics. Since the decision is going to come around quickly I’d assume they’ve already made their minds up and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the smaller Portsmouth yard.

    21. james morton says:

      When it comes to swtiching work to protect their own vote, the Tories have form. I remember something similar to this with refit work being switched from the clyde to Devonport when Major was PM. There is of course another alternative that is finding some way to split contracts between the two sights or coming to an arrangement that allows UK to kick the ball a bit further down the road until after the election.

      But it is an issue for the No campaign – if they are aware of the significance of it that is. The sort of Banal unionism that underpins their arguments would blind them to the danger it represents. Just sit back and watch the double/group think go into overdrive and miss the point completely.

    22. Jim Campbell says:

      Glasgow or Portsmouth ?
      Unfortunately for the shipbuilders and the other jobs that are reliant on this industry,
      there will be one (or more) yards closing.  I think it will be Glasgow – but since it is BAE and not the Government who supposedly will make this decision it could go either way.
      I sense that a lot of “behind the scenes” manouvering will take place as we are looking at a potential   “black eye” for the better together together campaign versus a safe (?) Tory seat.

      Let us see who the unions throw their weight behind.


    23. dadsarmy says:

      There’s also of course the other angle from BAE.

      “We’re the UK main defence contractor, and just look what you did with your crazy defence cuts, we’re having to close a shipyard. Well, if you want the capability for building warships to reamin in the UK, perhaps you’d better take a long hard look at your future defence plans …….”

    24. scottish_skier says:

      Either way this is a tough one for Better Together. Shut the Scots yards and they need a new video as just the start of their problems on this issue.

      Shut Portsmouth and they, well, probably need the same. After all, BAE would apparently be going to build warships in an independent Scotland in this latter scenario.

      I’ll cross my fingers for the Clyde yards being saved.

    25. Silverytay says:

      Afternoon Rev      I did not actually say that people were making light of the situation , I said we have to be careful not to make light of the situation .
      If Portsmouth is the one to shut ? We can all imagine the headlines in the M.S.M about these nasty cybernats gloating at the job losses in Portsmouth .
      I also said that the unionists have got themselves caught between a rock and a hard place of their own making over this one .  
      If the unionists want to continue with their lies and scare stories for the next 2 years ? the one thing we can guarantee is that their lies will come back to bite them big time before we vote in the referendum .  This is exactly what is happening with these shipyards .
      It is just I have a lot of sympathy for the workforce of these shipyards no matter what country they are in . 

    26. John Lyons says:

      Thanks Canmore.

      Maybe now the government will see that building ships in North Korea isn’t cheap if you also have to pay out Job Seekers allowance to 1,500 former ship builders. Anyone know how much that is?

    27. tartanfever says:

      Watching the BBC news at lunchtime (both national and Reporting Scotland), emphasis was being placed on the independence issue.

      Ian Davidson and his comments were aired by the reporter Jamie McIvor, and a Lid Dem MP in Portsmouth was allowed to tell us without question that Portsmouth was the most advanced shipbuilding facility in the country. I’ve no doubt that the BBC will run with the Independence angle rather than talk about the real tragedy – the loss of jobs.

      Additionally, Davidson’s comments of ‘no ships are built on foreign soil’ was repeated verbatim and no mention of the current vessel being produced in  South Korea was mentioned. 

      It’s obvious the BBC will omit pertinent facts in the reporting of this issue and are already in defence mode by attempting to tag this issue to independence  uncertainty.

    28. MajorBloodnok says:

      Would be ironic then, if they really pushed the uncertainty thing and then BAE closed down Portsmouth. Can’t imagine the Westminster Govt would skimp on inducements for BAE to retain a significant presence down south though.

    29. James McLaren says:

      I am not so sure that is not a power play by BAE to exploit the Independence referendum and menace the UK Gov to accelerate or, minimally commit to the production of future RN ships.
      They have put the Gov between a rock and a hard place. Follow the money.

    30. Arbroath1320 says:

      Will some one please remind, ever so gently, Mr Davidson and Mr Murphy about this please.
      As a wee aside, I don’t think it is the Tories who are the only ones in a wee bit of trouble today. Labour must be doing a wee bit of squirming themselves.
      Congratulations to Lord Gilbert, you’ve just made UK number one on the terrorists nuclear hit parade.
      What a complete and absolute dork of the first magnitude!

    31. Sword says:

      All the talk of it being BAE putting the UK Gov between a rock and a hard place leaves me thinking that some previously unmentioned and unaffordable defence contract may be pulled from the back of the filing cabinet just in the nick of time to save all three yards, even if at reduced numbers (the majority of Portsmouth are already on temp contracts). DC and the Tories come up smelling of roses and the NO campaign too by proxy. “the union dividedend yadda yadda yadda……”. 
      Its either going t*ts up, or someones got a big game plan based on something that they know and we dont. theres no smoke without fire.

    32. Arbroath1320 says:

      Here’s the Hansard text of this “Lord’s” ramblings. He starts at 3.42 pm and his “suggestion about nuking the Afghan/Pakistan border comes at the end of his segment.

    33. Sword says:

      Arbroath 1320
      I saw this on the Parlimet channel live. could’t believe what i was watching. absolute madness. how these people can be allowed anywhere near government etc is beond me.  to their credit though, there was also a smattering of laughter from the “Lords” as he described his thoughts.  What a Goat!

    34. Embradon says:

      Arbroath 1320
      Apparently the Noble Lord was “a member Intelligence and Security Committee”.
      Oxymoron surely? Or maybe the “Oxy” bit is superfluous.

    35. Arbroath1320 says:

      Sword that would be a BILLY goat of course. 😆
      Embradon when is the oxy ever NOT superfluous when describing these eejits? 😀

      It’s the fact that he once “worked” in intelligence that really worries me.

    36. MajorBloodnok says:

      He’s probably just keeping Ian Davidson’s seat warm for when he get’s elevated to the Lords.

    37. Ronald Henderson says:

      I think it’s likely that they will keep all three yards open but put one of the Scottish yards onto a low maintenance, low tech, snagging sort of operation. Maybe pay off a thousand immediately and keep 500 or so jobs going. That way they can have their cake and eat it and claim that they are doing their best for Scotland.
      If we get a yes vote then they’ll just close down the low maintenance yard and spend a few million on Portsmouth to get it right up to scratch so they can dump the remaining Scottish yard in a couple of years: perhaps less.
      If we get a no vote then the same thing will happen except that they’ll dump the maintenance yard as soon as possible and hang on to the other Scottish yard for as long as it suits them. It wouldn’t be too long.
      Either way we lose.

    38. Juteman says:

      Why don’t the Yes campaign call a press conference and say we won’t be seperating after all. Any plans to float Scotland into the Med have been cancelled! Surely that will help the undecided?

      Then again, maybe the climate in the Med would add more undecideds?

    39. MajorBloodnok says:

      (Pardon my errant apostrophe).

    40. Kenny Campbell says:

      It’s a BAE decision, not sure how much influence Westminster will have. As someone else said it could be a good negotiating stance by BAE to get orders pulled forward.
      A disaster for either Glasgow or Portsmouth, usual mouthpieces on the Herald still managing to try and spin this as no longer linked to Independence/Union question. Well I say that but to be honest I’m not sure what McKeweon is arguing for.

    41. Arbroath1320 says:

      Funny how the trailer for Reporting Scotlnad gave the distinct impression that it would be one of the two Glasgow yards that would close. Absolutely NO mention that there was a THIRD shipyard under the microscope as well! Good old neutral BBC reporting, as usual!

    42. scottish_skier says:

      I was just looking through the BBC’s bizarre attempt at some sort of strange daily mail hatchet job on the Scottish NHS.

      lip/Trip/Fall – the patient was wearing socks and the cot sides were down as s/he usually moves unaided. However, these conditions may have contributed to the injury.
      Learning Points – in future, the patient’s socks will be removed before s/he goes to bed, and the bathroom light will be left on.”

      Aggression/Violence – an aggressive patient was restrained. Policy was followed.
      Learning Points – none.

      Other – a patient suffered a delayed perforation following a polypectomy.
      Learning Points – this incident along with three others is being investigated by medical electronics.

      Well, I’m terrified of visiting the Borders General now – looks life threatening. I shall also be voting Labour and not for independence. I mean Labour would always leave the bathroom light on wouldn’t they, unlike those nasty SNP types.

      Oh hold on. Look at this one:

      Equipment Failure – a wheel detached from the bed making it unstable whilst patient was being helped off bed. An apology was given, and the patient was not harmed.
      Learning Points – none.

      That’s a bloody scandal that is. The FM should resign immediately!

    43. Juteman says:

      At least the Scottish Government is anti-smoking. Surely the guy blowing himself up whist having a fag on oxygen can’t be blamed on the government?

    44. Boorach says:


      The truly frightening thing regarding the n(umpty)oble lord Gilbert is that he made this statement last Thursday and not a word of it has been reported in the media.

      Wonder which is the most heinous, getting college funding figures wrong or threatening to nuke the common border of two of our allies?

      The college figures made headlines for almost a week the Armageddon proposal…. ? 

    45. Arbroath1320 says:

      Don’t worry Juteman the very example you mention, the guy smoking who blew himself up whilst on OXYGEN, will be Lamont’s first question at Thursday’s FMQ’s. Undoubtedly this whole explosive event is wholly the fault of the S.G.
      Quite clearly there should have been No Smoking signs everywhere on his Oxygen equipment to stop him smoking. Oh wait a minute that won’t work. I regularly attend Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and have to walk through a blue haze of smokers exhaled cancer smoke, despite them all standing NEXT to a No Smoking sign!
      Boorach obviously getting student figures wrong is MUCH more threatening to the security of the UK than any useless nerd promoting the nuking of Afghan/Pakistan border.

    46. Yesitis says:

      I had the misfortune to watch the nasty (this is what you`ll get if you vote Yes) Scottish NHS piece on Reporting Scotland this evening; such a sinister, dark, verging on the comical (I know, forgive me, this is not a laughing matter) tone throughout the whole report.
      After the recent report on the reasonable health of the Scottish NHS, you just knew BBC Scotland would cynically try to paint a more desperate picture of the “reality” of Scottish hospitals. It seems when BBC Reporting Scotland can`t make a direct (Labour fed) “damaging accusation” against Alex Salmond or the SNP, they come up with “damaging accusatory” pieces like the less-than-soft-white-underbelly article about the Scottish NHS.
      So sad. So predictable.

    47. Arbroath1320 says:

      Typical unionist throwing of mud and see if it sticks attitude to what could have been a serious and thought provoking article

    48. Alan says:

      ((Existing Uncertainty + Future Uncertainty) + More Uncertainty) = Total Uncertainty. It’s an unknown list of unknowns.Of this I am uncertain…

    49. Morag says:

      Arbroath 1320 said:
      Will some one please remind, ever so gently, Mr Davidson and Mr Murphy about this please.

      More to the point, after his repeated assertions that after independence Scotland will be a “foreign country” as far as England is concerned, maybe Mr. Murphy needs to be reminded of this.

      2  Republic of Ireland not a foreign country.
      (1) It is hereby declared that, notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of His Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom or in any colony, protectorate or United Kingdom trust territory, whether by virtue of a rule of law or of an Act of Parliament or any other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, and references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, to foreigners, aliens, foreign countries, and foreign or foreign-built ships or aircraft shall be construed accordingly.

      Is he indulging in baseless scaremongering again?  Say it’s not so!  Or does he really intend to press Cameron to give Scotland a worse independence settlement than Ireland, despite our wholly peaceful campaign, and that (unlike Ireland) we will be a successor state and take our share of the national debt?  Or is he just plain ignorant?

    50. Arbroath1320 says:

      I think the answer to your question is a resounding YES. He ius scaremongerinf AGAIN and he is also plain ignorant.

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