As Treasury officials play ‘Think of a Number’ and the Lib Dems go into freefall, a bad day for the Better Together campaign just got worse. It seems that it isn’t just the Treasury that are just making things up. We were contacted by readers in Helensburgh who told us they had been doing their own research after some very odd claims made by Jackie Baillie at a recent public meeting in the town.

Watch the film then read David Pollock’s open letter to Baillie below it.

An open letter to Ms Jackie Baillie

Dear Ms Baillie,

Recently, I attended a meeting organised by the Helensburgh Advertiser in the Victoria Halls in Helensburgh. The meeting was interesting but it did not clarify an important issue, which is whether the Base at Faslane is a benefit to or a blight on Helensburgh.

Your assertion at the meeting that we only need to look around Helensburgh to see the beneficial impact that the Faslane Base has on this area surprised me. Central Helensburgh does not look prosperous to me. This is underlined by the large number of empty shops and by the charity shops in prime positions in the centre of the town. Charity shops have an important role but their number and location suggest that there is not much competition from conventional retailers for these shops. In addition to the numerous semi-derelict empty shops, there are major buildings, including former banks, a hotel and a filling station that appear to have been abandoned. If you doubt this, I’ll be happy to give you copies of the photographs I took recently in central Helensburgh.

This situation is surprising in what should be a prosperous town, especially one that supposedly benefits from 11,000 people employed nearby. I noticed that Mr Young, in his letter published in the Advertiser (8/5/14), says that the number of “directly related defence jobs” is even higher (12,000), so the beneficial effects of the Base on commerce in Helensburgh should be even more obvious. It isn’t.

At the meeting, you were very clear that 6,500 people are employed by the MOD and Babcocks at the Base and another 4,500 are employed in the supply chain supporting the workers at the Base. You were adamant that these numbers are “very real and not made up” and that you have consistently quoted these figures to justify your support for the Base. It is surprising that the potentially huge spending power of such a large and presumably well-paid workforce does not have an obvious beneficial effect on Helensburgh.

Why is that?

At the meeting in the Victoria Halls, a gentleman from the audience provided a possible answer to this question. He had learned that a large number of staff at Faslane live at the base from Monday to Thursday but return to their homes elsewhere in the UK at the weekends and they do not buy houses in the area or contribute much to the local economy.

I was surprised when this information was revealed. I was even more surprised that you kept your head down and said nothing in response to this revelation. Your uncharacteristic silence was all the more significant, since, throughout the rest of the debate, you intervened vigorously, when you disagreed with anything.

Do you dispute the information he provided or were you already aware that many of the staff at Faslane do not live here or contribute much to the local economy, because they live elsewhere in the UK for part of each week?

My second point concerns the calculation of the number of workers (4,500) in the supply chain that supports the 6,500 staff at the Base. I did not understand your explanation of how the number in the supply chain was calculated. I would be grateful if you could explain how the figure of 4,500 people in the supply chain was arrived at.

As I recall, you said this figure was obtained “through use of an income multiplier, which is the amount you (ie we) spend in the local economy.” You were at pains to emphasise that these figures aren’t made up, that they had been produced for Scottish Enterprise some time ago and that you have been quoting these figures consistently ever since. Frankly, your account of the calculation, though obviously well-rehearsed, did not make sense to me. I would be grateful if you would explain how the figure of 4,500 was calculated. It is incomprehensible how the cash we collectively spend in the shops can somehow be transmuted (by a magical “income multiplier”) into the number of people employed in the supply chain for the Base. How is this possible? Moreover, how is this factor influenced by what we spend elsewhere – in Glasgow or Braehead for example? More importantly, how does the calculation take account of the transient nature of the staff, who work for the MOD and Babcocks at the Base but only live here part-time and leave for long weekends elsewhere?

It is no secret that the No Campaign, of which you are an active member, seeks to dissuade people from voting “yes” in the referendum, by trying to frighten the voters. This approach seeks to undermine the confidence of the voters by highlighting the alleged risks of voting “yes”, whilst implying that there are absolutely no risks associated with voting “no.”

Another undermining technique employed by the No Campaign is to disparage the idea that Scotland could be a successful independent nation that could, for example, defend itself. You used the latter technique at the meeting in the Victoria Halls when you sneeringly suggested that if the electorate voted ‘yes’ in September, the Scottish Navy would have only “seven frigates and half a submarine,” the latter presumably being obtained as a farewell gift from the remaining UK. Very drole but not as absurd as the current parlous state of the RN. Are you aware that the RN now has many more commanding officers than active, major surface warships.

When I last checked, there were 40 admirals and 260 captains but just 19 ships that are major surface combatants (13 frigates and 6 guided missile destroyers), not one of which is based in Scotland. This is disastrous for a nation with aspirations to be a major world power. Correction – for Westminster politicians with pretensions to pose on the world stage and, according to their favourite cliche, “punch above our weight.” Even more absurd are the 2 aircraft carriers currently being built and for which the UK cannot afford to buy aircraft.

It now turns out that there are questions about whether the flight deck of the single carrier that the Ministry of Defence can afford to retain, is strong enough for the aircraft to land on. I’ll leave the submarines, including the abandoned hulks at Rosyth, for another day, when I hope you might clarify the logic, practicalities and morality of your position. This story requires a modern Gilbert and Sullivan duo to do justice to these issues and to the monumental incompetence and soaring self-regard of the Westminster politicians, including your labour colleagues at Westminster.

In conclusion, I wonder why you have apparently not noticed that the population in this area is falling and, according to the Sunday Times, house prices in Helensburgh are falling to a greater extent than anywhere else in the UK. (Google it if you haven’t seen this news.} Moreover, as the Advertiser recently reported, there are many unoccupied shops and a lot of charity shops in the centre of Helensburgh. Why is this? True to your Project Fear philosophy, you raised the spectre of falling house prices, depopulation and diminished prosperity which would inevitably occur in Helensburgh if the nuclear submarines were ever removed from Faslane.

To emphasise your threat you pointed to Dunoon, where, when the US nuclear submarines were withdrawn, house prices, prosperity and the population all fell. You warned that a similar fate awaits Helensburgh. What you did not admit is that the dire (Dunoon-like) circumstances you predict already exist here in Helensburgh now, before any nuclear submarines have been withdrawn. Why is that? Is it possible that the falling house prices, the falling population and the numerous closed shops in central Helensburgh are related to the proximity of the Base and its nuclear weapons, from which many people would prefer to stay far away?
David Pollock

PS Recently, I sent similar emails to you and to the editor of the Helensburgh Advertiser, which did not publish my open letter to you. The emails I sent to you and to the Advertiser asked questions similar to those in the email above. I have now contacted the Advertiser to advise them that I wish formally to withdraw the letter I sent to the editor and that I no longer want it to be considered for publication in the Advertiser, because I have made other arrangements. However, I assure you that I am still looking forward to receiving your answers to the questions posed in the original open letter to you and now in the email above.