Defence Industry

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 20th November 2013.

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Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

No, thank you, Mr Rennie.

On the day of the UK Government’s statement on shipyards in the House of Commons, Mr Davidson made a quite extraordinary comment. He said:

“This has been an excellent day for shipbuilding and industry on the Clyde”.

That comment is still on his website. Of course, we all welcome the greater certainty for the future of the Clyde yards, but what Mr Davidson called an excellent day was a day on which more than 800 people in the yards lost their jobs. How excellent a day would they have felt it to be?

It is sad to reflect on the point that, as Johann Lamont and Willie Rennie said, we knew that this day was coming. To me, that speaks of the point that the issue is a long-standing one, as Margo MacDonald said. Under UK control, we have seen the managed decline of the shipbuilding industry in Scotland. Johann Lamont referred to the fact that 100,000 people worked in shipbuilding at the industry’s peak. More recently, in 1998, 10,100 people worked in shipbuilding in Scotland, and, in 2011, the figure was down to 6,600, which is a decline of one third in 13 years. The number will fall by a further 15 per cent as a result of the recent announcement.

The point about BAE Systems recognising the expertise of the Clyde yards has been well made. The Clyde yards are the place to build the type 26 frigates, which can and will be built there when we are independent. We should reflect on the fact that Scottish shipyards already build ships for countries outside the UK. Whatever the circumstances might be, they already do that. They were involved in £1.5 billion-worth of export contracts with BAE, including eight ships for Malaysia, Brunei and Brazil and the reactivation of five frigates for Romania and Chile.

The most important question is what the future for the yards is once the type 26 frigates are built. On the current trajectory, will we be looking at another day that we all knew was coming? Independence, far from threatening the yards, can help to secure their future.

I will compare our situation with that of Norway, which other members have mentioned. In Norway in 2011, 22,210 people were employed in the building of ships, boats and oil platforms. In 2012, 42 shipyards built more than 100 ships. Murdo Fraser set out how we have a competitive market, which is absolutely the case—I cannot disagree—but I have set out the reality of shipbuilding in Norway compared with the reality in Scotland.

When we are independent we will need the expertise of Scotland’s shipbuilding sector. Murdo Fraser inadvertently made that point when he said that he cannot conceive of the circumstances in which a Scottish Government would not award contracts to Scottish yards. He is saying that there will be work for the industry in an independent Scotland. He is absolutely right. Indeed, I have a copy of the Scottish Global Forum’s letter to Willie Rennie—incidentally, I think that he misrepresented its report; the forum certainly thinks that—which talks about the number of vessels that could be procured from the Scottish yards in an independent Scotland.

We should all get behind Clydeside and Rosyth no matter what our constitutional future is, but let us hear no more about independence threatening Scotland’s industries.