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Cabinet (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2013.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. To ask the Deputy First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S4F-01651)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Issues of importance to the people of Scotland will be discussed.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I thank the Deputy First Minister for her expressions of sympathy for the Portsmouth workers, as well as for those in Glasgow, who are losing their jobs. The workers in Portsmouth are also losing their yard. Everyone here is arguing with sincerity about the future of Scottish shipbuilding.

The big problem for the Deputy First Minister is that what she has said to Johann Lamont today is not what she has said in the past about procuring ships. Let us look at what she said about a fisheries protection vessel before she was a minister. She said:

“it should be reclassified as a grey ship in order that the work can simply be given to a Scottish yard.”

The Sturgeon shipbuilding doctrine, powerfully put, was that warships should be built inside the national boundary. She wanted the then Scottish Government to pretend that our fishing patrol ships were warships so that they could be built here, but now she wants the UK Government to do the opposite. Does she see no inconsistency between what she said then and what she is saying now?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I do not know how closely Willie Rennie has looked at the issue. I am not arguing that the type 26 should not have what is called in the technical language the article 346 exemption; I am simply saying that there is nothing in the context of an article 346 exemption that would prevent those frigates from being built in Scottish yards.

The reality that nobody can get away from—which I think we should use as a big advantage for the Clyde, not as something to argue about—is that the Clyde is now not only the best place to build the frigates, but is the only place to build them. That is not something that I particularly relish. As I said earlier, I am deeply sorry for Portsmouth following yesterday’s announcement, but it makes the Clyde the only place to build such ships. That is the reality.

In this morning’s edition of The Times, Alex Ashbourne-Walmsley, who is a London-based defence consultant, said that

“Portsmouth on its own simply doesn’t have the capacity to build a ... new class of large, complex warships”.

Portsmouth does not have the capacity, so the only place in the UK that has it is the Clyde, which is something that we should say is good for the Clyde.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I know a little bit about defence, as I sat on the Westminster Defence Select Committee for a number of years. I also represented Rosyth, so I know one or two things about Rosyth.

When Nicola Sturgeon talks about the order being placed in another country, that would open it to competition, which is the whole point about Korea and the Korean yards. That was an open competition, in which the British yards did not even compete. The type 26 frigates are complex warships, whereas the fleet tankers are not. She should know that, and if she does not understand it, she needs to get a bit more advice.

Nicola Sturgeon’s own doctrine says that warships should be built inside the state boundary and, as she said, article 346 makes it clear that that can happen. I remind her that she said that fishing patrol vessels should be reclassified, so that the work could simply go to a Scottish yard, but she expects the UK Government to ignore that doctrine—that is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Her gamble is that the rest of the UK would do the opposite of what she would do.

I want the relationship between the Royal Navy and the Clyde to continue to deliver jobs and opportunities. Does the Deputy First Minister’s gamble not put that at risk?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Willie Rennie fails—as Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson failed—to say where else, if not on the Clyde, the ships would be built, but we will leave that to one side. He is just plain wrong on article 346. I will quote to him paragraph 1(b), which says:

“any Member State may take such measures as it considers necessary”.

I am not arguing that that provision should not apply. I am saying that, if the UK Government considers it necessary to award a contract to BAE and—for reasons of value for money and because it is the only place to build the ships—BAE says that the ships should be built on the Clyde, nothing in article 346 will prevent that from happening. That is the reality.

What I am about to say to Willie Rennie I say more in sorrow than in anger, because I wish Alistair Carmichael the best in his new post; I had a great relationship with his predecessor. However, Alistair Carmichael’s behaviour yesterday was shameful. He is the Secretary of State for Scotland and his job is to stand up for Scottish interests, but he is quoted this morning in the Portsmouth press as talking about taking jobs away from Scotland. That is disgraceful. I hope that he will amend his approach to the job quickly and I hope that Willie Rennie will never follow what he has done.

The Presiding Officer:

I have been indulgent with questions and answers on this very important subject. We now have little time to get through the rest of the questions, so I ask that questions and answers be brief.