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Editor’s note


Mandy Rhodes mandy@holyrood.com


In the name of defence Make no mistake; the current debate about


the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde has little if anything to do with the country’s defences. For despite the cacophony of cross- party outrage about the potential cancellation of the £5bn contract to build two aircraft carriers in Rosyth and on the Clyde as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, this recent debacle is all about economics and possible political advantage in the run-up to the Scottish parliamentary election in May, with a smattering of sentiment for a bygone age. Of course, no one wants to see job losses on the scale that could happen but let’s not pretend it is about defence of the realm. And while you can’t blame the MSPs for opportunistically latching onto what could be a catastrophe for the local workforce, you have to stand back and apply some cool logic and have regard for the financial situation this country is in. And while it is all very constitutionally interesting that for once we appear to have almost all parties – nationalist and unionist - in some kind of unity over an issue that is not after all devolved - which is a discussion for another day - I for one would be asking: a) why is this such a late political wake-up call in terms of the potential economic and electoral disaster that the long-awaited Strategic Defence and Security Review could mean for Scotland; and b) is it quite possibly an over reaction to a comment made by the head of a private company with a financial vested interest in the contracts continuing, when even the union leader at the shipyard appears relaxed about the outcome? Te strategic review of the UK’s defences has been a long time coming; promised, delayed and then finally, a green paper published by the former Labour Government on the eve of the general election, which laid bare the pessimistic case that Britain simply couldn’t fund its current operations. Te decision to build the two large carriers in Scotland was made in the heady, early days of the Labour Government and while it is hard in terms of a pure defence argument to justify what they are for and why we need them, the risk of them being cancelled really remains pretty


small despite the current outcry. However, set in the context of last week’s revelations by the UK’s Commons Public Accounts Committee that the MoD, under the last Labour Government, had made ‘astonishing failures’ in its procurement of a £10.5bn fleet of aircraft under PFI which, after much delay and wrangling, is no longer fit for purpose even though it is still to be delivered, then it is easy to see why multi-billion-pound mistakes over defence needs and requirements can be made and should be questioned. Defence is a fast-moving area and yet we have to predict what military hardware we require and what kind of battles we envisage we will be fighting in the years ahead in the here and


“What other workforce is prefixed by ‘proud’? ”


now. Tere is no doubt that shipbuilding has an iconic status in Scotland. What other workforce is prefixed by ‘proud’? It is also no exaggeration to suggest that the cancellation of these massive projects would sound the deathknell for the Clydeside yard but should our defence contracts be viewed as one gigantic job-creation scheme or is it now time to assess what we are training those apprentices for and to think about creating jobs for the future and not the past? No one can criticise Labour in particular for wanting to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Clydeside shipbuilders – they have history - but what is interesting about this current recognition of Scotland’s defence capabilities is that it’s taken Iain Gray et al so long. For the last five years, Angus Robertson the SNP MP has been rattling cages about the structural underspend on defence in Scotland and of the bleak consequences a defence review could have. He has detailed how Scotland has already lost 10,000 military personnel in the last decade under Labour. Yet Robertson has been rubbished at every turn. Te SDSR puts


Since last time... succumbed to the cold and took a day off work…started and almost finished reading Alice Sebold’s compulsive novel, The Almost Moon…went to a 40th and a 50th birthday party all in the same weekend... …realised I live on a different planet to Bob Crow


20 September 2010 Holyrood 3


at risk at least two of the three RAF bases in Scotland, the Marines base at Arbroath; the Black Watch regimental base at Fort George, near Inverness; the downgrade of the Craigiehall, Edinburgh command post and a possible cut in military personnel by 20 per cent. Yet where is the outcry when the reality is that any threat to their existence wouldn’t just kill off an industry but a whole swathe of north-east Scotland? Not one single Glasgow or Fife Labour MP attended or spoke in the House of Commons SDSR debate late last week despite the fact that this was the last opportunity to put the case before decision time. I for one would have more respect for the current posturing of Holyrood politicians if they had been fighting for every corner of Scotland and not just cherry picked a particular industrial heartland that seems to still be about the past and not the future.


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