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The Deputy First Minister and I know Govan shipyard well, and I am sure that she shares the bittersweet feeling about yesterday’s announcement by the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence. There is great sadness for the families of the 840 people who will lose their jobs and for their colleagues in Portsmouth, but there is a degree of relief that shipbuilding on the Clyde has a future. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to secure the future of our shipyards?
I join Johann Lamont in expressing deep regret at yesterday’s announcement. She is absolutely correct that there was mounting speculation that Govan shipyard was under threat of closure, and there is an element of relief that that has turned out not to be the case. However, the loss of 800 jobs across the Clyde and Rosyth is a devastating blow for the shipbuilding industry and the communities that are affected. As she rightly says, we both know the shipyard and those who work in it very well. The Scottish Government’s thoughts are with all those in Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth who are affected by the announcement.
The finance secretary yesterday had discussions with BAE Systems and the unions, and I understand that he briefed Johann Lamont this morning on the content of his discussions with the company. He and I will meet BAE Systems and the unions represented face to face tomorrow morning. Working with the company, the unions and the UK Government, the Scottish Government will do everything that we can to protect as many jobs as possible and to give as much support as we possibly can to those who are affected. Members across the chamber would expect no less of us.
I am sure that we will discuss the longer-term future of the shipyards in greater depth as question time develops. I believe that the Scottish shipbuilding industry does have, should have and must have a strong and secure future. Naval procurement is part of that future, but if we want to build the security and sustainability of our shipbuilding industry we must think beyond naval procurement. I look to Norway, which is similar in size to Scotland and has 42 shipyards that built 100 ships last year. I am not saying that it will be easy but, with political will and the consensus that I hope we can gather across the chamber, all of us should be determined to build that future for our shipyards and those who work in them.
We know that work on aircraft carriers will continue on the Clyde and that 2,500 jobs will be sustained as a result of the order for three ocean-going offshore patrol vessels. Beyond that, it is vital that the Clyde shipyards secure the work to build the type 26 frigates. We know what the Deputy First Minister thinks and hopes will happen. We also know what she would like to happen. What discussions has the Scottish Government had with BAE Systems and the UK Government to secure that work? Can she give my constituents and hers a guarantee that that work will come to the Clyde?
As I said, John Swinney and I will meet the company tomorrow. I care deeply about the shipbuilding industry and its future, as I know Johann Lamont does. I will work with anybody anywhere to secure the future of an industry that is very important to Scotland both practically and emotionally.
Let me also say that my heart goes out to the people of Portsmouth, because I know that their shipbuilding industry is as important to them as the Clyde’s is to us. The problem that we have is that—as we saw yesterday with the further downsizing of our shipbuilding industry—naval procurement alone, however important, is not enough to secure that future not just for 10 years but for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. That is what I want to do.
On the issue whether the type 26 frigates would be built on the Clyde in an independent Scotland, let me deal with that directly by saying two things. First, what we heard yesterday from BAE Systems and from the Secretary of State for Defence is that the Clyde is the best place to build those ships—end of story. Secondly, the UK Government would have nowhere else to build those ships.
I found something quite interesting this morning in a press release on the Royal Navy website that is headed “Britain and Australia to work together to create possible frigates of the future”. The press release starts by saying:
On a visit to the BAE Systems shipyard in Perth, Australia, Philip Hammond said:
“Areas of potential co-operation include future frigates, with the Royal Navy’s Type 26 design ... the first of many opportunities for future collaboration. In times of budget pressures for all nations, it makes sense to maximise economies of scale and work with our friends to get the best value for money on all sides.”
I ask Johann Lamont, in all seriousness, to explain to me in simple terms why it should be okay for the UK Government to collaborate with a country 10,000 miles away but collaboration between two countries that share the same island would not take place. As the constituency MSP for Govan shipyards, Johann Lamont should be getting behind the shipyard to say that it is the best place to build the type 26 frigates regardless of the outcome of next year’s vote.
The fact of the matter is that we already have joint procurement: it is called the United Kingdom. The Deputy First Minister wants to break that up and then reinvent it and pretend that there is not a difficulty. Yes, Govan is the best in the United Kingdom. I want Govan to stay in the United Kingdom so that it can benefit from that position.
I do not doubt the Deputy First Minister’s personal commitment to the individuals within Govan shipyard, but the problem is that her prospectus for Scotland threatens them and their jobs. If I were her, faced with the consequence of that prospectus, I would change the prospectus rather than explain away the concerns of those within the industry who are now highlighting these matters.
The Deputy First Minister has spoken about diversification, but there needs to be a base to work from in order to deliver diversification and there would be consequences while that was happening. Given that naval contracts could dry up within a few short years, what discussions has she had with BAE Systems about diversifying work on the Clyde? Does she have a diversification plan ready to be put in place? Can she tell the workers in my constituency when she anticipates that work on the first non-naval contracts will begin?
With the greatest of respect to Johann Lamont, let me say that John Swinney raised the issue of diversification with BAE Systems yesterday when he spoke to the company. I recall a joint meeting that John Swinney and I had with the trade unions on the Clyde in which diversification was one of the key issues that we discussed. We are not responsible for the running of the shipyards at the moment.
The whole point that I am making is that we need to build an alternative for our shipyards—with naval procurement as a part—and look at what we can do to boost exports and to diversify. The point that I am making, which Johann Lamont does not seem able to rebut in any way, is that there are examples out there of other countries, similar to Scotland, that do that very well.
In the spirit of consensus, I say to Johann Lamont that we would be delighted to work with her and anyone else across the chamber to start to look at that different future for our shipyards.
I also say this—and this point is true regardless of the outcome of next year’s vote. Even with the type 26 order, we are seeing a downsizing of the shipbuilding industry, and in a few years’ time we will be asking ourselves what comes next, because there is nothing in the MOD locker after the type 26 frigates are built. That is a challenge for us all: whether or not Scotland is independent, if we want the future of our shipyards to be secured we must work to find a solution.
On the point about defence jobs in general, Johann Lamont should really look at some of the figures and the evidence. Defence jobs are not being protected in the UK. We are seeing a disproportionate loss in defence jobs and facilities—our shipbuilding industry is being downsized before our very eyes. That is the reality of the UK. The threat to defence jobs in Scotland is not independence but Westminster, and we see that day and daily.
If this was only an argument between the Deputy First Minister and me, that might have been an acceptable answer, but people are worried about their jobs and they deserve better.
John Swinney and his party have been arguing for independence for 30 years. One would have thought that they might have spoken about diversification before yesterday. Even if people agree with the SNP’s position, they know that, in order to move from one place to the other, a bridge is needed to create that security. There is no diversification plan; the SNP’s position is simply a defence against the reality it faces.
That reality is not just faced by us in the chamber: it is much more serious for those who depend on the jobs. This morning, I spoke to the shop stewards convener at Thales. He described the position that the workers are in following yesterday’s announcement as moving from uncertainty to vulnerability. That vulnerability is because the United Kingdom Government has made it clear that defence contracts will not be let outside the United Kingdom—[Interruption.]
I think that people in the defence industry would prefer to hear what I am about to say rather than catcalling from the SNP back benches.
Let me repeat: the United Kingdom Government has made it clear that defence contracts will not be let outside the United Kingdom and therefore will not come to Scotland if Scotland were outside the United Kingdom, which is what all those in the SNP aspire to.
The reality is that the United Kingdom has not built a warship outside the United Kingdom since the second world war. If the Deputy First Minister is so sure that the contracts would go ahead regardless, can she guarantee the rest of the United Kingdom that an independent Scotland would place orders for warships with English yards? I think that we know the answer to that. [Interruption.]
I take no pleasure whatsoever in the statement that I am about to make, but the result for other parts of the UK of the UK Government’s announcement yesterday is that there are no other shipyards in the UK where complex warships can be built. That is a result of the death knell that the UK Government sounded for Portsmouth yesterday. The Clyde is now not only the best place to build such ships but the only place in the UK to build the ships.
On the point about defence contracts not being let outside the UK, let me be the first to tell Johann Lamont—I am amazed that I am the first to do so—that UK defence contracts are already let outside the UK. It is not that long ago that the MOD let a contract for a military vessel to Korea. The MOD also leases military vessels from Norway.
Johann Lamont did not mention my Australian example, but let me say that it is not just Australia that the UK has approached. In 2011, a newspaper in India stated that the
“cash-strapped UK Government has approached New Delhi to jointly design and build” the type 26 frigates. In the House of Commons in January 2011, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, talking specifically about the type 26, said:
“we are in ... discussion with the Canadians ... Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey”—[Interruption.]
“All those countries have expressed interest in joining the United Kingdom in a collaborative programme that would” bring
Is Johann Lamont’s point that it would be only a future independent Scotland that the UK would not and could not collaborate with?
I understand that Johann Lamont does not support independence—I have got that message. She will campaign hard against independence. I accept that—I even respect it—but this is a question about what happens after Scotland has democratically voted for independence. Surely she will not threaten, bully and seek to blackmail Scottish shipyards. Instead, she should be saying that, in that scenario, the MOD should do the only thing, the right thing and the best thing.
Here is what Jamie Webster, the union convener of the Govan yard—somebody who knows more about the Clyde than the rest of us put together—said:
“If the situation is that Scottish people by democratic vote, vote Yes, I would expect, no sorry, demand, that every single politician of every section supports us”.
My question to Johann Lamont is simple: will she support the Clyde to build the frigates even if we are independent? [Applause.]
I will always stand up for the constituents I represent and I will always stand up for the people of Scotland. The Deputy First Minister’s problem is that, once the vote is taken next year, we would have no control or influence over what the UK Government would do because we would not be in it.
The Deputy First Minister highlights all the issues about how we can work with other people. They represent the current benefits of being in a United Kingdom: sharing risk, pooling resource, coming together in tough times and making sure not that we put Govan workers’ jobs at risk but that we protect them in the future.
The fact of the matter is that Johann Lamont is not standing up for the Clyde; she is seeking to bully and blackmail people. Ian Davidson is arguing for the contracts to be taken away if Scotland becomes independent. That is not standing up for the Clyde.
I refer Johann Lamont to the comment that her deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, made on television last night. He said:
“let’s not make it a constitutional issue”.
That memo obviously did not get to Johann Lamont. It sounds as if she is even more out of the loop in her party than we thought.