SHIPBUILDING workers are demanding face-to-face talks with Alex Salmond on the future of the industry amid concerns that thousands of jobs could go after a referendum Yes vote.
Labour leader Johann Lamont launched a campaign to “save” Scottish shipbuilding yesterday as she met Clydeside union chiefs who are fearful that vital UK defence work would dry up after independence.
But Nationalists branded the Labour claims “disgraceful scare stories” and said an independent Scotland would have its own shipbuilding requirements.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracts for aircraft carriers directly affect 4,000 jobs north of the Border, a workforce which also played a major part in recent work on navy destroyers.
Workers at the Babcock Rosyth yard on the Forth insisted they “deserve answers” about the impact of independence and hit out at Mr Salmond for failing to meet them.
Raymond Duguid, Unite convener at the yard, met Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael for talks. “We need to know what Yes means, what No means,” said Mr Duguid. The convener said Rosyth would not get UK navy refit work it currently relies on after a Yes vote and a Scottish navy would not be enough to sustain it. “I would question whether he (Mr Salmond) knows where Rosyth is,” he added. “I believe the CSEU [Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions] has a meeting set up with Keith Brown, but unfortunately no-one higher up wants to meet with the unions and answer difficult questions.”
The UK government plans to build the next generation of Type 26 frigates on the Clyde, securing work for a new generation of shipyard workers, but it has repeatedly warned that the UK does not build warships in foreign states, prompting concerns that an independent Scotland would lose the work.
Duncan McPhee, Unite convener at the BAE Scotstoun yard on the Clyde, said: “The Ministry of Defence will not build a complex warship outside of the UK.
“Unless the Scottish Government could replace that work, our industry would be decimated if Scotland became independent. We have 3,000 jobs on the Clyde at the moment that would be under immediate threat.”
But SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson accused his opponents of “disgraceful anti-independence shipbuilding scare stories that must end”. He added: “The Clyde has been, is now, and will in the future be the best place to build the new generation of naval ships.”
Nationalists point to a recent interview in which the head of the BAE Type 26 programme, Geoff Searle, said that the company was looking to build the vessels at a revamped Scotstoun facility and that there is “no plan B to move this elsewhere in the UK” if there is a Yes vote.
Mr Robertson added that current aircraft carriers being assembled at Rosyth have “got to be finished” there, ensuring 2,000 jobs for years to come.
Ms Lamont warned: “There is a danger that if we vote Yes, we won’t have a shipbuilding industry any longer, because we’re reliant on these defence contracts.”