Defence Industry: Scotland

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies) 4:57 pm, 30th April 2019

It is good to serve with you in the chair, Mr Hollobone. It is always good to speak in this place about the valuable contribution made to Scotland and across the UK by the people who work in the defence industry. Their skills and diligence make their contribution to our economy invaluable—let us not forget that Scotland has record-low unemployment—and that is felt well beyond the sector in which they work. I am glad there is agreement across the Chamber on that point. I am thankful to Ged Killen for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that point of agreement.

From the perspective of the Scottish National party, as we consider the starting point for the Scottish defence industry to move towards an economically and otherwise sustainable future after Scotland’s independence, there is much cause for optimism. I am no pacifist; my brother served in Iraq and in Afghanistan twice, and my nephew is a Royal Engineer. Our Benches are not filled with pacifists, although I cast no aspersions on the voting intentions of those who are.

In my role on the Defence Committee, I have been lucky to visit many defence manufacturing sites in Scotland. I am glad to say that they are all historically rooted in their local communities, but nonetheless are well integrated into the wider European and global economies, with export profiles to match. For me, an independent Scotland operating in the strong framework of the European family of nations, with the broad shoulders of a global, capable trading bloc that already has trade agreements and over half a billion people, should be well placed to build on that position.

The most important aspect of ensuring that we have a sustainable and diverse Scottish defence industry—this is where we might find some agreement—will be the establishment of multi-year defence agreements, or MYDAs. I have yet to hear a single other member of the Defence Committee mention those at that Committee. Used commonly by our allies, MYDAs create a framework agreement among political parties for a common approach to defence procurement that gives security to industry and removes complex and long-term decisions from capricious politicians wedded to short-termism.

With MYDAs of five years or longer, an independent Scotland, which of course is my preference, or indeed the UK, would no longer have to face Governments halving the size of the Type 45 destroyer programme—I will leave it to others to find out which Government did that—or chopping up maritime patrol capability. That capability was discussed at the Defence Committee this morning; we are having to try to get an even older programme from the United States to replace it. Defence Secretaries who seek to sign blank cheques for programmes in the hope of being catapulted into No. 10 would no longer be able to saddle the procurement budget with £15 billion black holes.

The consensus about the excellence and skills of our defence industry employees should be reflected in an ability to work together to ensure their long-term future. Quite simply, the MOD has been used for far too long as a political football. We already know that a steady and reliable pipeline of orders can form the basis of a diversified and sustainable industry.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to join my hon. Friend Chris Stephens on a visit to Thales electronics in his constituency. I was fascinated to see the outstanding tradition of periscope manufacturing being transformed to produce a new generation of optical sensors for the Royal Navy and other customers, including the navy of Japan. Technology designed and developed in Glasgow, with a broad economic reach across the whole of central and western Scotland and with the expertise of a lot of people from West Dunbartonshire, whose shipbuilding heritage is profound—of course, we do not have any shipyards left, but we will leave that for another debate—is used on a whole range of optical sensors for use across the military and civilian fields, not only in the UK but by our allies.

Similarly, SNP Members were delighted by the welcome news that Raytheon, recognising the strength of the skill base in central Scotland, has decided to invest in a new facility in Livingston, primarily to design and manufacture power systems for military and defence radars. Building on a history of excellence in manufacturing in the military domain to provide civilian applications is precisely what this debate is about, as I am sure the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West intended.

Those are examples of multinational companies that have chosen to locate in Scotland because of the skills, quality and work ethic of those who come through our schools and universities. Very few other small states have such a plethora of world-class higher education departments, and we can only hope that the end point of the Brexit process does not dislocate them from common European funding mechanisms. That points to the fact that the common assumption that the strength of Scotland’s defence industry is mainly in the maritime sector may change in the future. These are encouraging developments, and I only hope that the potential development of cyber and electromagnetic capabilities in Scotland leads to much growth and diversification. Again, that was discussed at the Defence Committee this morning.

Let me draw my remarks to a close by reiterating my agreement with most of what was said by other Members, who spoke about the abilities of those who work in the defence sector in Scotland. We are grateful for the contribution they have made and will continue to make to the health of our economy and to our neighbours and allies. Let me reassure them that, as least from my perspective, independence continues to be the best way forward for a sustainable future away from the historical underinvestment by successive UK Governments in defence in Scotland. Finally, we hear much about the 2% of GDP that the UK spends on defence, but Scotland does not get its fair share of that. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why not.