Leader: Shipbuilding switch would be real betrayal

BAE Systems yard, formerly Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, on the Clyde. Picture: Donald MacLeod

BAE Systems yard, formerly Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, on the Clyde. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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MUCH of what Yes campaigners have said since September’s independence referendum about broken promises and betrayal has been overblown, to say the least.

Within hours of victory for the Better Together campaign, the complaints began.

All positive news about the North Sea oil and gas industry was pounced upon as “proof” that Scots had been lied to about the resources remaining in Scottish waters and their benefit to the country’s finances.

The non-appearance of new powers for Holyrood was another early favourite, but its impact was lessened by the fact mere days had passed, and massive constitutional reform – if it is to be good and workable – is not something to be settled overnight. The now-famous “vow” made by the UK party leaders in the final days of the referendum campaign has not been broken – not yet anyway.

Yet while this newspaper is not of the view that Scotland has been “betrayed” in the aftermath of the referendum, events yesterday provide considerable pause for thought. Comments by the Ministry of Defence would appear to confirm that the UK is considering building its new Type 26 frigates in shipyards outside the UK.

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If this turns out to be the case, it would be a clear and outrageous betrayal of the promises made by politicians of all three UK parties in the course of a bitterly fought campaign.

Throughout the referendum, the importance to the United Kingdom of the Clyde shipbuilding industry was relentlessly hammered home.

Pro-Union politicians had a message about jobs – the UK would not commission a foreign country to build complex naval vessels. But shipbuilding comes with a broader story, given its iconic role in the history of the nation and of Glasgow in particular. Pro-UK politicians were able to exploit a sense of history and the romance surrounding the heyday of the Clyde’s yards.

There is industry speculation that, with the MoD and defence contractor BAE in dispute over the terms of the contract for the frigates, the UK might instead buy French warships, meaning Scotland would lose a £4 billion contract.

The implications of such a course for what remains of the Scottish shipbuilding industry, and the 11,000 people whose jobs depend upon it, would be devastating. The industry might never recover.

Furthermore it would be the most extraordinary breach of faith for the UK government, having used the shipbuilding industry in such a prominent way during the referendum campaign, to now award this contract to an overseas company.

The UK parties’ promises on Scottish shipbuilding may not have been termed a “vow” in the same way as more powers for Holyrood, but they carry the same weight. And if those promises are not honoured, the price Scottish voters extract will be a heavy one.

Still no sign of that feel-good factor

Of course, a fall in unemployment and a rise in employment is welcome news. More people in work is a fundamentally good thing.

But, as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, will confirm, employment rates are no longer a reliable baro-

meter of economic recovery.

Many of these jobs are poorly paid and part-time. The use of

zero-hours contracts is widespread. More people in this kind of employment is not necessarily an indicator of a new dawn of prosperity.

Yesterday’s new statistics on employment should not be taken as proof that we are, after the recession, a more secure and prosperous country. Many Scots in work will feel far from optimistic about future prospects.

Politicians seeking plaudits for this rise in the number of people in work may wait a long time for a grateful workforce to begin preparing garlands.

The reality is that there are too few quality jobs. Too few young people get the apprenticeships they would love to take up. Too many graduates are left with no option but to take on jobs for which they are overqualified. And too many who have been on the work treadmill for years have seen pay freeze after pay freeze send their standard of living plummeting.

A hugely important factor in the 2015 general election will be public confidence that real economic recovery is finally being achieved after years of painful austerity. Voters will want to feel that the Tory-led coalition has made tangible progress. Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne would be wise not to count on voters feeling that the bad times are over.

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