SCOTLAND is likely to lose one of its two military shipyards on the Clyde if the country votes for independence next year, Scotland on Sunday has been told.
According to defence sources, BAe has decided to keep its two yards at Scotstoun and Govan open as a warship building “centre of excellence” following a major review of its UK operations. But although it will cease warship building at Portsmouth as a result, the English base will be kept open with small repair contracts in case Scots vote to leave the UK in September 2014.
In that case, at least one of the two Scottish yards may be closed down so that the UK government has warship-building capability in England. Both are unlikely to shut as Portsmouth would not have the capability to build the number of new ships planned by the Royal Navy.
But the BAe plan is a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls of a Yes vote on employment north of the Border. The combined yards at Scotstoun and Govan employ around 3,500 workers at present.
The coalition Government has recently recommitted to spending £17.4 billion on new ships, including two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, six new Type 45 destroyers and the development of the Type 26 frigates. Currently the three BAe yards are working on two new aircraft carriers but their future is tied up with the new frigates.
A well-placed defence source said that a briefing from BAe executives had confirmed that the decision has been made to keep the two yards in Glasgow.
The source said: “It makes sense because there is the possibility of flexibility between the two yards. Workers can be moved between the two to do work on either the carriers or the type 26 frigates depending where they are needed.”
But he added: “They don’t want to close Portsmouth because of the independence referendum and the possibility that they may need it to build British warships should Scotland become independent. So this is good news for Scotland if it stays in the UK, but means it could lose the work and probably the entire ship building industry, which is dependent on MoD contracts, if it separates from the UK.”
A source in Portsmouth confirmed that while efforts were still being made to keep warship building in the south coast city, negotiations are taking place on other alternatives.
Portsmouth MP Penny Mordaunt said that she had “not given up” on keeping work for the type 26 frigates in her city but is now “actively campaigning for a patrol vessels contract. A formal announcement on the BAe plan is not expected until after interim work is secured for Portsmouth.
Pro-UK campaigners claimed the decision showed why Scotland is better off as part of the UK.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, said: “Royal Navy orders have kept the Clyde afloat for years and will continue to do so unless Scotland separates. The Royal Navy doesn’t build complex warships in foreign yards so workforces in Scotland will be at risk from SNP plans.
“Defence jobs are vital to the Scottish economy and yet independence puts thousands at risk. The SNP policy is based on assertion and presumption but they now need to start answering tough questions about the impact of their plans.”
An MoD spokesman said: “Talks are ongoing on this issue but in the end this is a commercial decision for BAe.” A BAe spokeswoman also said talks were “ongoing” and “no decision has been made yet.”
Unions are still attempting to keep all three yards open. Ian Waddell, of Unite, said: “This is very worrying. We still don’t know when a decision will be announced.”