Defence Industry: Scotland

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:04 pm on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament) 5:04 pm, 30th April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to Ged Killen for bringing this important and timely debate to Westminster Hall. We on the Scottish National party Benches really appreciate his timing; only last weekend, our party decided to develop a policy of setting in stone a road map for taking nuclear weapons out of Scotland forever.

Critical to developing that road map is establishing how we can have conventional forces in places such as Faslane, Glen Douglas and Coulport. Importantly, we need to use the skills and talents of engineers, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs to diversify into conventional deterrents, and to put those people’s undoubted abilities to more peaceable uses that help our economy.

Despite promises, troop numbers in Scotland are down and naval shipbuilding contracts have gone unannounced, with consequent job losses in the likes of Rosyth in my constituency and on the Clyde. We have long made the case that the fleet auxiliary ships should be built in Scotland, and that the north Atlantic and the High North should be the bread-and-butter areas of activity for our Navy and Air Force, yet not a single ship of any significant size is based north of the English channel, and the people of Scotland feel exposed to potential threats from the north and the east. In the air, following the demise of Nimrod, we beg and borrow any maritime aircraft we can find from the USA, Canada and Norway until the new P-8s come into service in 2021.

We would like more support for our defence industries, not just to meet the defence needs of today but to help them create the new technologies that will be at the cutting edge of our future defence posture. If we put more money and time into the technology, jobs and skills we have, perhaps we will find better solutions that we can apply as a society.

I was really taken by some of the ideas I picked up on a NATO visit to Nova Scotia earlier this year. The Canadian Space Agency is a leader in technology, and its use of satellites and different information-gathering devices would sit exceptionally well with the scientific reputation of Scotland’s space industry. Canada organised a huge competition to identify the country’s first astronaut, which involved kids in schools, with the aim of boosting their science, technology, engineering and maths activity, and allowing more children to become involved in science and technology. All the provinces involved got behind their local candidate to be the first Canadian astronaut, and that really upped the ante with respect to people’s interest in science and technology. Canada even put a picture of its first astronaut on its $20 bill; every time someone spends one, they are reminded that their country is associated with science and innovation. It is quite amazing what you can do when you have your own currency.

I thought I was going to get an intervention there. Here in the UK, we are going to lose out on £1.2 billion of investment through the Galileo programme as we drop out of the EU. That cannot be good news for anyone. That is the kind of investment we need to take us forward, to enable us to use the skillsets of our graduates and to support our defence industries to diversify into more peaceable activity.

The other area I would like to talk about is cyber-security. There was recently a meeting of cyber-experts at Edinburgh Napier University. Small nations, such as Estonia, have shown the way forward, as they have picked up prizes and accolades for the expertise and innovation they have shown in finding solutions to security problems. Again, leaving the EU puts us in quite a difficult—and weaker—position. Money must be found to retain that research and development to encourage new cyber-products and services to come to market.

I have come hot foot from a meeting in Committee Room 6 at which we were talking about the costs associated with nuclear submarines. I have no doubt that we could use the range of skills and talents involved in building submarines, maintaining the warheads, and so on, to provide us with a better chance of developing economic activity rather than spending it on a weapons system that will never be used.