I may be getting past it but, look as I might, I can’t find anywhere the definitive statement from Philip Hammond that London will not build warships in an independent Scotland. I know he has implied it by restating the current British position of not building outside the UK and claiming that won’t change, but that isn’t the same thing.
He didn’t say there would be no contracts to Scotland in his Commons statement and on at least two occasions – according to Hansard – body swerved open invitations from MPs to do so.
If there really was a concerted attempt to bully the Scots into rejecting independence to save jobs, wouldn’t he just spit it out? “I’m sorry to have to say this, Mr Speaker, but the unavoidable fact is that we won’t place the orders if Scotland votes to leave the UK. In that case, we will direct the contract to Portsmouth instead.” The whole House, Scots Unionists included, would have cheered to the rafters.
There. Sorted. Why on earth would he rely on those with dubious clout – Lamont and Carmichael – to carry a message when he had the stage to himself? He clearly has allowed them to state categorically that which he did not. How convenient to have handy stooges.
And, indeed, why would any Scot – Unionist politician or commentator – work so damnably hard to make such a point on his behalf when he didn’t actually state it himself? There is something demeaning about our national leaders falling over themselves to say their own country would be disinherited. Imagining myself for a moment to be a Unionist spokesman – don’t worry, Blair McDougall, it’s theoretical – I would work my socks off to say Hammond was definitely not threatening, that’s not what Unionists do. I would say it demonstrated how fragile these affairs can be when a government has to weigh up its options and there was simply no guarantee that the Clyde would come out on top after a Yes vote. But, I personally would be pressing the rUK government very hard indeed to ensure the work stayed on the Clyde, independence or not.
My problem – one of them – is that I don’t like threats. I would respond to a nuanced message like that by applying logic of my own. I would be much more likely to take seriously the underlying possibility of losing the work if they appealed to my common sense not my fear button. I wonder if that isn’t what many Scots mean when they say they don’t have enough information to decide…that nobody is speaking to them in a language they understand but instead they are brawling in the bar so that it is all overheated and incoherent.
BAE owns the yards and pays the workers. BAE is the shipbuilder. The shipbuilder is not the state. The state is the client which orders and pays. BAE delivers. BAE has restructured its naval defence business in agreement with the state so that future orders can be delivered on time and on budget. How likely is it that, having reached this agreement, the state would renege and leave BAE with empty yards and unemployed staff? If that decision was based on a political reason and if that had been predictable all along – like a referendum – wouldn’t the state be liable for BAE’s costs (£3bn) and might it not be in breach of contract?
Also, from what Hammond and the procurement minister Philip Dunne have already said – as I mentioned in a previous post – the frigate decision is coming after the referendum and before the establishment of an independent state. In other words, Scotland will still be inside the UK when the contract is awarded. Therefore, technically, no conflict with the aim of building “in the UK.”
What remains true – and this seems to be the point that makes the Unionists’ knees knock – is that London can withdraw the contract. They have the power to do so. It would be counter productive and it would be ferociously expensive and it would damage Britain’s credibility in the global arms business. But they could do it. I think it’s that raw power that turns Unionists to jelly. They can’t envisage their own country coping with real authority because they’re so used to big decisions being made elsewhere by their betters, that they shrink from it. Real power is beyond our capability. It’s why they scoff at Salmond bigging up Scotland and why they’re at it again this week laughing at him heading off to China. “Och, Eck, man…you’re just embarrassing us by pretending we’re a real country. Leave it to the posh boys in the Foreign Office…overseas stuff is not for the likes of us. Our job is to do as we’re telt” You can almost hear them worrying among themselves that if you ask for too much, the Master will turn on us and we’ll get nothing. The word, I think, is deference. Unionists have been saying all week what a great deal this is and implying we need to be grateful – another cowering, rather than towering, week for Alistair Carmichael. Grateful for what is our due and grateful for 800 job losses?
I don’t think they mean harm, as such. They are simply devoid of the normal responses of functioning people who instinctively put their country first and assume their fellow countrymen do the same. They don’t believe they are from a country worth standing up for. At least, they will speak up for Scotland but only to the point where it comes into conflict with the people they respect most – the British state.
And where did this great tradition of building warships only in Britain come from? If it’s true, why have British interests been seeking partners in Brazil and India? http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/uk-proposes-building-future-warships-with-india-111081100061_1.html
The Eurofighter is being constructed in, I think five European countries, the Army uses weaponry made in European nations, Trident is an American-built system to which the US provides Britain with the firing codes and even the technology to be placed inside the new navy frigates comes from a variety of other countries. Time to join the modern world, RN?
Shame about Portsmouth, though. I too like a bit of tradition and I’m currently reading a new biography of Nelson. So I give a salute to the south coast yards but I think the workers there are being misused if they are led into an Us and Them tribal debate by the likes of Carmichael. There were politics in the awarding of submarine refit work to Devonport not Rosyth in 1993. (Thanks, Malcolm Rifkind). But I haven’t heard the commercial case made for Portsmouth in this instance. We’re left with a bigger question which is why have we allowed shipbuilding to decline – and the Royal Navy to become an operational joke – instead of diversifying and modernising? And, no, I don’t think the Scottish Government has been nearly quick enough out of the blocks on this one either.