During the independence referendum there was no bigger issue that symbolised the ‘strength’ of the Union than defence. On the issue of defence there was none bigger than shipbuilding.
The BAE shipbuilding yards on the Clyde were the focal point of the Unionist argument.
Vote Yes we were told and shipbuilding will disappear from Scotland. The message was hammered home relentlessly. Even trade unionists bought into the line being promoted by David Cameron’s Tory led government.
Today that promise lies in ruins. Reports of delays in the release of funding by the MoD, which will lead to job cuts, is the second blow to the yards since Unionists won the referendum last September. The news has featured across Scotland’s media. But as ever with the pledges given to Scotland before the referendum, those who sold voters a pig-in-a-poke are not being pursued.
The Labour Politicians
At the top of the ‘wanted’ list is the Scottish Labour Party. Senior figures within the party, including its leader at the time, relentlessly hawked David Cameron’s pledge to fund the building of thirteen Type 26 Frigates. The orders from the UK government, said Scottish Labour, would protect the yards and the jobs of its skilled workforce. A Yes vote would place those jobs in jeopardy.
Scottish Labour politicians appeared regularly on BBC Scotland repeating the same message that only a No vote would protect the yards.
Current Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale echoed her then superiors’ claims that independence was the only threat to shipbuilding. In a column in the Daily Record in July 2014, she said:
“We know shipyard and defence workers believe it [independence] will be the end for them, costing thousands of well-paid, highly skilled jobs.”
The Trade Unionists
The pro-Union alliance which saw Labour join the Tories and Lib Dems, regularly highlighted the ‘plight’ of shipbuilding should Yes emerge victorious. There were articles from trade union officials, with John Dolan a prominent contributor to the official Better Together alliance.
Duncan McPhee the UNITE Convenor at the Scotstoun Shipyard and John Dolan GMB Convenor at the same shipyard jointly authored a piece in which they argued that being “better together” was good for Scottish shipbuilding.
In the article, entitled ‘A Future for Scottish Shipbuilding on the Clyde’, the two union officials wrote: “BAE has announced its intention to close one of its UK yards and the uncertainty of the independence referendum has put the Clyde shipyards at risk.”
They added: “We believe our industry is one of the best examples of why we are better together, because the benefits to being part of the UK are very real.”
Jim Moohan who was chairman of the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (CSEU) in Scotland and GMB Scotland senior organiser, also fired in.
Moohan didn’t restrict himself to the BAE yards when it came to attacking supporters of independence. One month before the referendum when the Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow went into receivership, Moohan used the news to mount a politically motivated attack on Alex Salmond.
“This is the end of commercial shipbuilding in Scotland. The yard has struggled for work for a number of years now and the Scottish government gave us an assurance that the work would be there and the yard would survive.
“There was a personal commitment from the First Minister that the workforce would be protected and that work would remain. This is a scandal and Alex Salmond should deliver a personal apology to each and every one of these men today.”
The yard was of course saved through a joint effort between the Scottish government and engineering tycoon Jim McColl. It was eventually rescued and is now expanding, with no help from Moohan’s Unionist chums.
Trade union officials also appeared on official Better Together leaflets [see this article’s banner image], pushing the message that defence shipbuilding would be finished in an independent Scotland. One of those was shipyard convenor Henry Wilson who, in July 2014, said the following of the Type 26 contracts:
“From a trade union perspective we are under absolutely no doubt whatsoever from statements that have been made in Parliament, that these contracts will not be placed in Scotland,” he said.
“If there is a Yes vote in September, as far as we are concerned, shipbuilding is finished in Scotland from a defence point of view.
“…[The Chairman of BAE Systems] has also stated that it is possible that the Type 26 could be built in Portsmouth.”
Wilson was also quoted in a Financial Times article, the headline of which can be seen below.
The Unionist Alliance
The Better Together alliance was led by Labour spin doctor Blair McDougall. McDougall took great pride in promoting the idea that the only threat to Scottish shipbuilding was independence.
In July 2013, writing for the Huffington Post, McDougall said the following:
“Shipyard workers at the three yards which build for the Royal Navy have been saying for months that their jobs depend on being part of the UK. Their argument is incontrovertible: you can’t sustain the same number of yards and jobs building ships for a small nation like Scotland as you can building ships for a country 10 times the size. The numbers just don’t add-up.”
BBC Scotland of course, as it did with every anti-independence scare story, headlined each and every claim from Unionist politicians regarding shipbuilding. Those politicians were overwhelmingly Scottish Labour. They were very rarely challenged.
That they received such sympathetic coverage isn’t surprising given the views expressed by at least two high-profile BBC Scotland figures at the time. Below are two short clips featuring first Jim Naughtie and then Douglas Fraser.
The nonsense regarding ‘foreign countries’ had already been blown to bits by no less a source than the Royal Navy which announced in January 2013 an agreement to work with the Australians to build the Type 26 Frigates.
It’s worth noting that claims a newly independent Scotland would not, and could not have won rUK defence contracts was comprehensively destroyed in November 2013 when a UK Government Minister was forced to concede such a situation wasn’t just possible, but given the cost in refurbishing English yards, was probable.
The ‘Type 26 Frigate’ pledge given during the referendum campaign has been eroded once already. Five months ago the Tory government announced that the promised contract for thirteen frigates was to be reduced to eight. The news, which was a blow to the Clydeside yards, featured on Reporting Scotland where it was rather oddly described as an “apparent reduction”.
On the day the Tory Government announced the order was to be cut, Jim Moohan of the GMB gave a quite bizarre statement to BBC Scotland, calling it “great news”.
“Once again this is great news for Clydeside, which has been rewarded for its continuing quality of work produced by the skills and experience heavily invested in by BAE Systems.
“Instead of the peaks and troughs which caused redundancies in the past, we now have continuity.
“This should be welcomed and not used for political mischief by those who have no knowledge in this area of industry and whose vision going forward was a dated Type 42 Destroyer to be the sole protection for Scottish waters in the event that the referendum question had answered Yes.”
Moohan’s statement, which welcomed a Tory order cut for the Clyde yards and certain job losses, allowed BBC Scotland to turn a bad news headline into a good news headline.
The statement from the trade union official was curious given that seven days earlier he had called the cut “very serious” and warned it could lead to job losses.
Moohan told the Scotsman newspaper:
“I raised this with Philip Dunne recently when the first steel was cut for the ships. We have certainly heard rumours that the number of ships could be reduced, which would be very serious.”
He added: “Obviously the Ministry of Defence contracts are vital for the continuation of shipbuilding work on the Clyde and at Rosyth, and if the number of ships is reduced then that means less work and potentially will lead to people being laid off.”
The latest news that funding for the frigates will not now be released as planned does not come as a surprise to those of us who have watched Unionist indyref promises fall like dominoes since the referendum.
Broken promises include the £1bn funding withdrawn from the Peterhead Carbon Capture project, job losses announced at Scottish HMRC offices, Scottish steelworkers forced to turn to the SNP government to protect jobs, and of course pensions now at risk. Arguably the biggest broken promise all was of course ‘The Vow’ which was based on Gordon Brown’s ‘Home Rule’ pledge.
Like all of the broken promises promoted by Unionists during the referendum campaign, nobody will be pursued and held to account over the latest erosion of the shipbuilding pledge.
There are no camera crews confronting Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson or Willie Rennie. There are no wall-to-wall bulletins on Radio Scotland informing the Scottish electorate they have been deceived again.
The lie is never news. The liars are never confronted.Views: 13854
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