Is it Worth It?


Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It’s all we’re skilled in
We will be shipbuilding…

As the referendum kicked off there was lots of talk about ‘things getting dirty’. Now we know what was meant. Yesterday Ian Davidson, Better Together’s favourite attack-dog, whose Glasgow South West constituency includes BAE’s Govan yard, suggested a “break clause” in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, meaning the contract for Type 26 frigates would revert back to the UK Government to be reconsidered.

An announcement is expected soon on the contract for 13 frigates, with each vessel estimated to cost £250m-£350million. Davidson says the UK Government does not build warships in other countries (not strictly true) and he believes the decision cannot wait until after next September’s vote. The “break clause” suggestion was described by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as “outrageous”.

Today 835 shipyard jobs are under threat in Scotland as BAE Systems announces 1,775 UK job losses. But the political machine is in full spin-cycle and we can expect the English chattering classes to shift into apoplexy by the evening news cycle.

This morning, Tory BBC anchor Nick Robinson ‏@bbcnickrobinson reported: “The Defence Sec says no order will be placed for 13 new frigates until end of next year when design clear (oh & after result of Scot referendum)”, adding telling “Have English shipyard workers paid to keep jobs in Scotland? Could a foreign country build “UK” warships?” See his blog here. It’s desperate stuff (the answers are ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ respectively).

Troubled No campaign spin-doctor Simon Pia ‏@SimonPia1 weighed in saying: “Govan union chair just said on BBC GMS referendum playing part in problem facing BAE yards”.

It’s all desperate stuff hinging on the reality expressed more soberly by Severin Carrell in the Guardian:

The future of the two BAE shipyards on the Clyde is pivotal to the debate over Scottish independence and to the claim by the UK government and Labour that Scotland benefits directly from a union dividend.

UK ministers have made it clear they are acutely aware of the significance to next September’s independence referendum of the fate of the thousands of shipbuilding jobs at Govan and Scotstoun, in Glasgow. Those jobs are currently protected by the project to build two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy .

If either yard were to close, that would undermine their case that Scotland benefits materially and significantly from being part of the UK. It would also weaken Labour’s power base in Glasgow, which is being challenged by the Scottish National party (SNP), and diminish the influence of the industrial trade unions.

But let’s look at the bigger picture.

BAE are arms dealers.

The MOD have admitted they are building aircraft carriers they can’t afford to put planes on and are only carrying on with the commission because it was too expensive to pull out. Are we really at the stage where we are so dysfunctional as a society and as an economy where we have to build huge hulking lumps of metal to sail around the world because we can’t think of a better way to employ people?

The wider question is why our entire shipbuilding industry is focused around military requirements? This just ties us to a pork barrel politics of Westminster handouts and manipulation. What we should be doing is looking at diversifying the industry to new and varied areas. The Norwegian example shows how their indigenous shipbuilding industry feeds into their oil, fishing, research and protectorate fleets.




Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Albalha says:

    Having sat through the Hammond statement – re the Type 26 – due to the designs not being complete the order will not awarded until the end of next year however BAE have said they want it to go to the Scottish yards, you get the political idea I’m sure. But of course there’s the matter of a referendum before then. Personally I’ve no truck with warmongering but this is going to play in the debate and I do care about that.

    Maybe the White Paper will outline a new vision for shipbuilding in Scotland, we’ll see, but going on the contributions of the SNP MPs to the debate today I do wonder.

    1. M.P.,s don’t get the time to question the P.M. or even make a reply to his answer,one question and only if your name comes out the hat,so the contribution of the SNP,s M.P.,s is severely limited.

      1. Albalha says:

        I was making reference to their contributions after the statement and then q and a of P Hammond not PMQ’s. If you didn’t watch it then you’ll not be aware of how the SNP MPs missed their chance in my opinion. A fairly empty chamber and yet they still read from pre prepared scripts.

  2. Mel Spence says:


    Interesting article. The reason our yards are focused on military orders, is that we no longer have a Merchant Navy of sufficient size to justify yards focused on civilian work.

  3. Abulhaq says:

    There is no manufacturing “diversification” in Scottish industry, what survives of it, or in the economy at large because, unlike the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese we have had no effective control over the strategic development of our economy. Stuck with an economic model linked to a defunct empire or worse the casino capitalism of the Square Mile we have all the marks of a latter-day colony. Unionism has done its job well. That it was aided in the task by many of our own is shocking. That some advocate the continuation of this thralldom defies belief. Independence must initiate a total change in perspective, no matter how seismal that might be. The end of the old order means exactly that.

  4. Les Wilson says:


  5. Older readers will remember, of course, the song Shipbuilding about the mixed blessing expected from the Falklands War. In an unforeseen development that outdid Elvis Costello’s cynicism, Cunard gave the contract to repair the ships to a Maltese shipyard. . . .

  6. Ken MacColl says:

    Surely it would make sense for Trident to be relocated to Portsmouth if the Westminster government persists in continuing with it. I suspect that few Scots would resent such a transfer of “Scottish” jobs to England.

    I would warn the Deputy First Minister to curb her tongue or she is likely to be threatened with a “right doin” by the Honourable member for Glasgow South West

  7. Deja vu all over again!

    England conquered us in 1707 by economic warfare, blocking our trade, threatning our future trade, threatning to deprive Scots living in England of any land they owned, paying a bribe and stationing an army at the border in case the Scottish MPs did not vote the way England wanted.

    The same thing is happening again. This time the bribe is to the Clyde shipyard woorkers. The threat is also to them, then to the rest of the Scottish people. Surely the shipbuilders of the Clyde have greater integrity to be persuaded by a bribe and a threat and so do the Scottish people!

  8. James Morton says:

    The carriers were built to take the F35 from the states – This fighter has so far failed to complete a safe “simulated” carrier landing. The US is actively considering its cancellation. This would be a huge blow not just for the contractors but also for the UK. The UK has committed to buying a sqd of these fighters and we have taken possession of around 3. We would not have had a full sqd to put on a single carrier until 2020. But if the order is cancelled then we will have no planes at all to put on these carriers. We can’t go back to harrier force as we sold these the USMC – who according to scuttlebutt, had taken one look at the F35 and decided “hell no”.

    The UK government is now considering adapting the typhoon as a carrier plane, but this would be a costly venture and could easily see our carrier “force” sitting in dry dock at least until 2030. They are also considering leasing the carriers to other countries aircraft. The only problem with this idea is that these countries have carrier capable aircraft and aircraft carriers.

    When it comes to understanding the US defence procurement industry – chuck spinney is always worth a look –

  9. If QinetiQ can build systems for Italy, US coastguard and US Navy then I’m sure both Scotland and rUK will continue to be a defence partners in the future.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.