THE political row over the future of Scottish shipyards escalated last night when Alistair Carmichael called on Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, to admit she was wrong to claim an independent Scotland would continue building warships for the UK.
The Scottish Secretary made his intervention after trade union leaders questioned whether the Clyde would be awarded contracts for UK warships after independence.
Carmichael’s remarks drew a furious response from Sturgeon who said the UK government minister appeared to be the Secretary of State “against Scotland”.
Carmichael, the UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and GMB officials have warned that independence would result in warship defence contracts moving to England, because the UK government would not want to build the ships in a foreign country.
“Nicola Sturgeon is looking pretty isolated on this. The best thing she could do is admit that she is wrong,” Carmichael said.
“Is she really saying that everyone else is wrong and she is right? Is she telling us that the people who build the warships and the people who place the contracts know less about this than she does?
“The Scottish Government are very fond of their assertions on independence. On this occasion their bluff has been well and truly called by the people who know best – the shipyard workers on the Clyde.”
He added: “The future of the Clyde yards is sustainable as part of a large and successful United Kingdom. Brilliant workers and the best complex warships in the world. It is a great combination and we should not break it.”
Last week Hammond signalled an order for 13 Type 26 Frigates were in line to go to the Clyde, although the final decision will not be made until after the referendum.
However, he also warned that the UK government would not want to place orders for complex warships to be constructed outside what remained of the UK.
Last week saw the loss of 835 BAE Systems jobs on the Clyde, Rosyth and at its office at Filton near Bristol. BAE’s operations in Portsmouth will shed 940 jobs and end shipbuilding altogether.
Portsmouth-based politicians have claimed that English jobs have been “sacrificed” to spare Scotland from the worst of the cuts in the run-up to the referendum.
Yesterday more than 200 people attended a rally in Portsmouth to protest against the closure of the shipbuilding yard.
In Scotland, Gordon Matheson, Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, joined the chorus of pro-Union politicians who believe independence will cost more Scottish jobs on the Clyde.
He said: “If there is a Yes vote next year, I will be adding my voice to keep these contracts on the Clyde, but the workforce themselves are saying, let’s get real here.
“Why would the rest of the UK give its military defence contracts to what would then be a foreign country?
“It is disingenuous to suggest there are not other yards elsewhere in the UK with the capacity to do the work. There is no point in trying to give false assurances about this because it won’t be within the power of politicians to deliver this if we do end up with a Yes vote.”
Sturgeon countered by saying: “The simple fact is that the decision to close Ports-mouth will leave the Clyde as the only place on these shores with the capacity to build naval surface ships – and that decision is testament to the world-class skills of the workers at the Clyde yards.
“But Alistair Carmichael’s shameful behaviour of recent days shows he is failing in the most basic job of any Scottish Secretary, which is to stand up for Scotland and for Scottish jobs.
“And only a few weeks into the role it seems he is not the Secretary of State for Scotland but the Secretary of State against Scotland.”