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Battleships and bunkum

Posted on November 27, 2012 by

When the No campaign launched its website, the Unionist parties behind it helpfully included video clips of what they called “real Scots” giving their reasons for wanting to keep the UK together. The most repeated assertion in the series of testimonies was that shipbuilding would cease to exist in an independent Scotland.

First there was Tanya, who reckons we’re stronger as a “family unit”, that apprenticeships will vanish overnight somehow (or possibly be made illegal, we haven’t ascertained the logic of them just vanishing yet) and that we should stick together to build big warships to show the world what we can do.

Next up we had Robert, whose view is that there would be no shipbuilding in an independent Scotland. Presumably we’ll just be using strong language to keep enemies from our waters. (In fairness, Robert does admit that he hopes, rather than knows, that shipbuilding on the Clyde will have a future within the UK.)

Then there was Craig, proud to build UK warships and who believes there will be no work under independence. His argument takes a subtly different tack: “There’s no commercial shipping at all, it’s all MoD work, that’s all we get, that’s what sustains us, that’s what keeps these doors open here is MoD work, and Rosyth as well, so if we’re not going to build commercial ships and all we’re going to build is defence and frigates and aircraft carriers then that’s our livelihoods and that’s what keeps us alive”.

Finally we have Frank, who believes that shipbuilding is safe within the UK. “We build ships to the world and we’re fantastic at that!” is his view, though he offers no explanation as to why we would suddenly lose the ability to construct a seaworthy vessel if not ruled from Westminster.

So that’s four repetitions of the same argument – that an independent Scotland would have no shipbuilding as only the MoD uses the yards on the Clyde. But does any reality underpin the assertion? Let’s find out.

Scotland will need to build and maintain her own fleet to supplement what we inherit from our 8.4% share of the UK’s military. If equipment wasn’t transferred on independence then a monetary value for the equivalent would need to be agreed and could be used to go towards purchasing or building the vessels required. The latter would seem the sensible option both politically and economically.

But Scotland’s needs would be fairly modest in terms of a navy, and in the medium to long term the Govan and Scotstoun yards would need customers from elsewhere. Would their current biggest customer, the MoD, continue to purchase warships from Scotland when it was a “foreign” country?

The last time defence giants BAE were looking into possible investment strategies and called in consultants to look at the future of the Govan and Scotstoun yards (as well as their third UK yard at Portsmouth), the defence analyst they used – Howard Wheeldon, a senior strategist with BGC Partners – said:

“If BAE decide to close a shipyard because of uncertainty about future work levels, I think it would be Portsmouth. It would be natural because Portsmouth is smaller than the Clydeside operations. It’s true that if Portsmouth closed and Scotland went independent, all the yards would be in Scotland. But that’s not BAE’s concern. That’s the UK Government’s concern.”

Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond, though, has said it’s none of his business:

“It’s explicitly not our decision where BAE builds the Type 26s. It’s a commercial decision they will have to make.”

So the rUK may well end up with no shipbuilding yards of its own and be reliant on “foreign” yards in Scotland to build their vessels, despite claims from a senior Admiral and former First Sea Lord that “there is no way that what would be left of the UK would build its warships in another country”a claim already undermined by the current government’s placing of an order for non-combat vessels with Korea:

“Hammond has rejected the bid led by an Italian company which would have seen the ships built in BAE System’s Govan yard and instead agreed a contract for them to be built in Korea. The work would have filled an important gap in the UK shipyards’ work programme between the new aircraft carriers and Type-26 frigates. However, in the case of the tankers, defence contracts are not governed by international competition law, which means Mr Hammond could have favoured domestic over foreign bidders.”

But what about the future MoD contracts to be undertaken on the Type 26 Frigates? Surely an independent Scotland is certain to lose that work? Not according to the Portsmouth News, a local newspaper which – as you might expect – follows developments in the shipbuilding industry closely.

A well-placed source has revealed a BAE Systems executive told them the new Type 26 programme will begin in the firm’s yards in Scotland later this decade. It comes as BAE reviews whether to carry on building ships in Portsmouth – potentially placing 4,000 local jobs at risk. A company spokeswoman said the decision on where it will build the Type 26s won’t be finalised until 2014. But a Westminster source said: ‘At a meeting last week, BAE said the first Type 26 will be made in Glasgow. From what BAE said, there would have to be investment in its facilities to accommodate the Type 26 in Portsmouth, so the first one will be done in Scotland.’

The commercial reality is that closing one or both of the Clyde yards would be the least sensible strategy for BAE Systems, as the yard in Portsmouth needs an expensive multi-million pound refit to undertake the Type 26 work while the Clyde yards don’t. BAE is a business, governed by economics rather than politics – it’s not in their interest to undertake needless expense. So if Westminster pushes BAE to close a Scottish yard, it would probably have to give BAE the money to refit Portsmouth.

How would that look to Scottish voters? Westminster funding a multi-million pound refit to Portsmouth with taxpayers’ money, in order to keep it open over a Scottish yard that required no such investment, would be a public admission that – directly contrary to what we were told by Tanya, Robert, Craig and Frank just a few short months ago – Westminster offered no future for shipbuilding in Scotland within the UK.

We should find out in the next few weeks which way BAE will jump. But whichever course they choose, one of the core arguments of the “Better Together” campaign will almost certainly be proven to be built on a lie.

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  1. 28 11 12 09:16

    Another Union Dividend | laidbackviews

40 to “Battleships and bunkum”

  1. redcliffe62 says:

    Interesting analysis. I did not read it or similar in the Scotsman though, do you think they would they be interested in reproducing it I wonder?

  2. Al Ghaf says:

    I see Jim Murphy is peddling his usual line of rhetoric on the Daily Record:

    He said: “We know for a fact independence would close the Scottish shipyards. The rest of 
    the UK would become a foreign country to Scotland and the Royal Navy have not built a warship in a foreign land in living memory.
    “The Royal Navy order book keeps Scottish yards afloat but independence would see orders dry up.” 

    What we can be sure of, is that if none/some/all of the BAE yards close, Murphy, Darling, Davidson et al will be able to twist it into an example of Better Together. If the Scottish yards close, it will be sold as a consequence of the uncertainty of 2014 and more jobs north of the border will follow. If they survive, it will be sold as the UK being necessary for jobs on the Clyde (they will have the brass neck to say that).

    It is sad but this affair is a textbook example of how Scotland has no power to influence affairs that are important within her own territory, never mind the lie about being able to project more influence abroad.

  3. dadsarmy says:

    I think as in the other article there’s so many possibilites we’ll just have to wait and see. From one point of view it’s more likely to be Portsmouth as they’re contractors. Sturgeon’s right though, all indy fighting should be set aside to try to keep the jobs in Scotland. It remains to be seen whether the likes of Murphy will do that.

    Anyway, while I admire the type 26 frigate:

    THIS is what I call a battleship:

  4. Arbroath1320 says:

    There’s only ONE way the Scotsman will run with a story about the Clyde shipyards redcliffe and that is if they can put an anti SNP twist on it. This is not possible because BAe have not decided which yard to close yet.
    Mind you when they do and if they keep both Clyde yards open no doubt this will be seen as a “benefit” of the union despite it being a purely commercial decision. They will of course conveniently also forget that Portsmouth is unable to build the new type 26’s.

    Now your talking DA. 😀

  5. KOF says:

    From the final quote you linked to in the article, I noticed there is one of those e-petition things, one of those official ones on yon government website.
    I found this quote from the text of the petition intriguing, “The yard is the last complex surface warship builder in England and a key national asset vital to the future of the Royal Navy.”
    Which “nation” and which “Royal Navy” indeed?! Could this become the first pre-emptive strike of the economic war which will surely come on independence?

  6. dadsarmy says:

    I’m thinking of putting together a skeleton crew to nick her and give her to Salmond on Independence Day 🙂

    Only problem is “stealthing” her and finding somewhere to hide the damn thing.

  7. Embradon says:

    Am I the only cynic who doubts that the Type 26 will be built at all, or at least more than a couple? The MoD cannot afford aircraft for the two carriers ordered by Labour.
    They might, of course flog one of the QE carriers to ease the problem. but I suspect that there is an element of “pie in the sky” about these “global combat” ships.

  8. Dcanmore says:

    If Scotland goes independent in 2014 then I doubt very much that the Type-26 programme will go ahead, simply because I don’t think the rUK will be able to afford £billion warships in the future. You have to remember when Scotland goes it will take 10% of UK GDP and over 25% UK corporation tax with them and that income will be gone forever. Trident replacement will be shelved too. i am pretty convinced that Scotland leaving the UK will cause massive upheaval in the economy of the rUK, mostly England. The Royal Navy will be left looking for a cheaper frigate option once it sells one of the new Supercarriers to China/France/Russia/India/Australia to finance them.

  9. Appleby says:

    I still can’t believe they were nuts enough to go and try to build those two big carriers. What were they smoking that day?

  10. Oldnat says:


    What were they smoking that day?

    Imperial Tobacco.

  11. BillyBigBaws says:

    All the evidence I’ve seen suggests that BAE Systems effectively ARE the UK government.

    Those guys we see at Westminster are just “front-line associates” for the firm.

    However, as you rightly say, BAE will act in it’s own commercial interests, and according to the Portsmouth news (and the Guardian) they already tagged the shipbuilding side of the Portsmouth yards for closure some time ago.

    Nothing to be happy about in that, though, since people in Portsmouth need to put food on the table just as much as people in Govan. All it shows is that the UK, even with the world’s fourth highest defence budget, can’t keep a yard open anywhere.

  12. BillyBigBaws says:

    Come to think of it, all this “we can’t build warships in a foreign country!” stuff really annoys me.

    We are talking about the UK MoD here – a body that is currently considering putting 6000 British tanks and military vehicles into storage in Germany, and even appointed the ex-head of a foreign intelligence service (George Tenet) to the board of it’s privatised research and development wing (Qinetiq)!

    Who are they trying to kid?

  13. Laura says:

    Sorry to go O/T but I have just discovered that Grampian Fire brigade are to remove the Saltire logo on their new fire engines due to TWO complaints of it being ‘offensive’
    What an utter disgrace whether you support independence or not. 

  14. Macart says:

    I repeat – Its a pickle and no mistake.

    Nice to see the other team with a headache for a change, but I really feel for all the people on Clydeside  and in Portsmouth waiting for the hammer to fall. Been in that position myself a couple of times now and it is just misery upon depression, upon fear. If its a political decision you could see it favour Portsmouth. If its a financial one then its thumbs up for the Glasgow yards. That its a decision which has to be taken at all? Well we can apportion a fair amount of the blame for that to successive governments who thought it a great idea to turn the British Isles from being a centre of manufacturing excellence into a financial casino/bordello.

    As fer the folks on said video, they really didn’t think that one through did they? Of course Scotland will need a fully functioning shipyard, we do live on an island with a great deal of subsea resource to protect.

  15. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Imperial Tobacco”


  16. scottish_skier says:

    OT but I see the huge NHS scandal story that the BBC had been working on for ages which was going to run for weeks, bringing down the Scottish government and saving the union has been relegated already. I wonder how much time and license fee cash was wasted on that.

  17. Aplinal says:

    I hear what you are saying Rev.  but my “political” radar – usually wrong, just to get this into context 😉 – sees that the Tories are interested in the longer game, and “losing” Scottish shipyard(s) (or even Scotland, for that matter) is less of a medium term problem than losing votes in the South of England.

    Regrettably for Govan, I think that there will be job losses there, even if it is a ‘downsizing’ rather than immediate closure of one of the yards.  

    My thoughts are with the families that will be effected, either in Scotland or England.   

  18. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    Yes, you are right that the Tories will want to see one of the Clyde yards close as to lose Portsmouth as a manufacturing base would be politically very difficult for them,

    BUT its not their call directly. They can put pressure on BAE but that may backfire and I dont think BAE will be the sort to cower from intimidation.

    If the Tories want to keep Portsmouth open then I’m pretty sure they will have to either:

    a) Fund the upgrades to the facility


    b) Bung more contracts BAE’s way so that it covers the cost but is not so obvious

    I just dont think that they have the budget to make either happen and I cant see how they can get a multi-national like that to go against its own business interests.

  19. Luigi says:

    If the Portsmouth yard closes, then it will indeed be spun as a benefit of the union. However, if the type 26 frigates can then not be built anywhere else, there is no longer any fear of independence, right? They still have to be built somewhere, even if we vote YES. Aye, Better Together are in yet another no-win situation with this one.

  20. Edulis says:

    Remember the tie-up with the French defence contractor hasn’t been put to bed yet. Last night Phillips O’Brien from Glasgow University was pretty bullish in his estimation that the decision would be political and the Indyref would be a major factor, bu then he appears to be against the self determination of the Scots.

  21. Marcia says:

    O/T Interesting article in the DR. I presume it is by Joan McAlpine but no author credited.

  22. Tris says:

    I too cannot understand all this “foreign country” claptrap.

    Where is it we get our nuclear weapons? (If they really are our nuclear weapons.)  Who has the codes for firing these weapons?

    With whom are we tied into a defence coalition sharing aircraft carriers?

    Scotland would be a foreign country seems to be the “buzz expression” du jour and like all these “buzz expressions” I’m sick of hearing it.

  23. Ewan Scott says:

    Guys, it is quite simple. If Scotland separates from the UK there will be no more daylight north of the border, the sun will fail to shine and the moon will vanish from the sky.
    Everything will cease to exist without the support of Westminster. The sooner the Scots realise this the sooner they will come to understand the dogma and lies that is being fed to them and they will vote in the best interests of the nation…  Yes!

  24. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    Its Joan McAlpine. For some reason her header keeps appearing and disappearing

  25. Luigi says:

    A few decent articles, at least neutral if not favourable to independence have appeared in the MSM, even the BBC recently. They are still greatly outnumbered by the pro-union stuff, but at least it’s a start. Cracks have appeared. Perhaps the views of people on the street are finally getting through to the editors.

  26. Jeannie says:

    I know, I was debating this with my other half last night – what is it about ships that make them different from other weapons/fighter systems or defence transport systems, etc?  It may be that there is a really good security reason for the practice of not placing orders for battle ships with foreign governments, but you’d think the same reasoning would then apply to aircraft? I don’t know much about it, to be honest, but just wondered.
    I was also wondering why this whole thing has come up at this particular time and once you get thinking about it, it’s hard to know what makes sense and what doesn’t, especially with the way that politicians immediately try to hijack the agenda.
    I did think that maybe BAE were trying use the independence debate to twist the government’s arm into placing new orders, or maybe just playing on the fact that there are Tory marginal seats around the Portsmouth area that the government couldn’t afford to lose, therefore using them as leverage to get additional orders.  But it also occurred to me that it could be the Ministry of Defence itself who are behind it – trying to circumvent defence cuts imposed by the politicians by getting their defence industry friends to cause a spot of political bother. Do BAE company reports indicate they need to make these cutbacks at this time?
    On the other hand, maybe I’ve just read too many John Le Carre novels in my time and the most simple explanation is the correct one – they’re just a commercial company trying to boost orders any way they can.

  27. pa_broon says:

    Annoyingly, Westminster is happy to run an aircraft carrier with the French, mixed crew and mixed equipment but it says it won’t work with a country with whom its people already fight side by side and are both part of an already fully integrated military.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but to me this sounds like a rather large flounce.

    I for one don’t know what I’ll do after 2014 when Scotland will no longer be allowed to play in Westminster’s sand box.

    Woe is me, I’m telling my mummy.

    (It goes without saying, any closures regardless of where they happen are bad, just another example of government/big business messing things up for the little people.

    It also occurs to me, I know ship building times are tight globally, but could it be there is a reason shipyards (North and South of the border) rely solely on MOD contract builds? For Scottish yards, its very handy for Westminster and how it chooses to deal with the problem of Scottish Independence.

    I’ll take my tinfoil hat off…)

  28. velofello says:

     Foreign country or not, a policy of defense interdependence could sensibly be recognised by independent Scotland and the rUK. Such a mature arrangement would ensure that the expertise on shipbuilding within the these islands would not be put at risk.
    The stumbling block to this would be Trident and no self-respecting country would have a specialist weaponry system operate in its territory under the command of a “foreign” power. Another stumbling block would be rUK’s military policies beyond the British Isles.
    BAE also have facilities at Prestwick airport and this airport is of some strategic importance. 
    And for the undecided voters amongst us. A No vote in 2014 and a Labour government  following the 2015(?) UK elections would have MUrphy as defense minster and so political commander of Trident. Appealing?

  29. Ronald Henderson says:

    Is that correct about Grampian Fire Brigade taking the St. Andrews Cross out of their logo because ‘two people have complained’?
    If it’s true then it really is a disgrace. Who were those two people? Is a religious motivation behind it rather than a political one? If it is religious then where does it stop? Taking the Saltire down from our town halls? Chipping them off our war memorials? Surely the SNP wouldn’t put up with Grampian Fire Brigade doing this.

  30. Morag says:


    This blog is almost unsearchable, you know….

    I really, really want that diagram/poster showing the 9.6% of taxes/9.3% revenue, the one with the map, and the arrows, and the extra bits explaining how national borrowing/debt affects the figures.

    And I have NO BLOODY IDEA which post it is in!


  31. G H Graham says:

    If we are ‘Better Together’ then the dividend works both ways: to the benefit of Scotland AND the rUK if the thrust of Darling’s argument is to be believed.

    Perhaps ‘Better Together’ representatives could make a trip to Portsmouth the day the naval yard ceases to build any more naval ships to explain to the unemployed that its closure is a direct consequence of being part of the UK of GB & NI & that Scotland is benefitting at your cost.

    After all, that’s exactly the argument that will be made in Glasgow should those two yards there remain open by ‘Skeletor’ (I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘Jim Murphy’.

    I wonder how the Spinmeister Herr General Murphy will sell that?


  32. Arbroath1320 says:

    I don’t think it is religious Laura my suspicion is that a couple of Labour Councillors have received orders from London.

  33. DougieFalkirk says:

    The talk in Aberdeen after the story made the front page of the P&J. Was that the compaint came third party from Labour councillors instructions. Labour policy I have been told by a labour party member is no Saltires on show if they can help it. This has been since Labour took power in Aberdeen Council.

  34. Arbroath1320 says:

    Well I’m shocked.
    No truly I am.
    Aberdeen Labour councillors actually have a POLICY!
    Just a pity it has NOTHING to do with HELPING Aberdeen residents and ALL to do with their anti SNP/Scotland policy.
    I’m sure the residents of Aberdeen are all well impressed about this one.

  35. Holebender says:

    Why am I not surprised?

  36. Trotskyite Terror says:

    Decision was taken by Grampian Joint Fire & Rescue Board made up of 15 Local Councillors, one of the more prominent being Tory twat & uber Unionist Alan Donnelly (Ferryhill) of whom I have stood against in local Council elections. This act of treachery has his fingerprints all over it.

  37. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    @Trotskyite Terror

    Noted. Will look out for councillor you mention in future. 

  38. Ian Sanderson says:

    “Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond, though, has said it’s none of his business:

    “It’s explicitly not our decision where BAE builds the Type 26s. It’s a commercial decision they will have to make.”

    Rev: do you have a source link for this quote?
    and BTW your system clock is fast… Today is 07 November not 27 (or 28) November

  39. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Rev: do you have a source link for this quote?”


    “and BTW your system clock is fast… Today is 07 November not 27 (or 28) November”


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