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Scottish independence: MoD sinks white paper plan

BAE Systems workers in Scotstoun, Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

BAE Systems workers in Scotstoun, Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry

  • by DAVID MADDOX
 

THE Scottish Government’s plan for joint defence procurement to save the Clyde shipbuilding industry post-independence has been rejected by the Ministry of Defence.

Officials have said that the MoD has “no intention” of agreeing to a proposal in the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence to build new Type 26 frigates for both Scotland and the rest of the UK on the Clyde.

UK ministers have already indicated that the Scotstoun and Govan yards will win the contracts to build the new Type 26 frigates should Scotland reject independence, but signalled their intention to use English yards if Scotland becomes a foreign country.

Current EU rules allow for a country to favour a domestic supplier for defence assets but if they allow foreign tenders then they cannot favour an individual country.

However, the Scottish Government white paper put forward a proposal where the two countries could order the same specification of ships and keep work on the Clyde in exchange for Scotland continuing to purchase other military equipment from the rest of the UK.

The white paper noted: “Joint procurement is in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK, preserving the strengths of defence industries around the whole of the UK.

“Joint orders would maintain the expected numbers of jobs in the defence industries sector, including shipbuilding, and support companies as they seek to expand their business internationally.”

The approach has worked for the UK, most recently with the construction of the new joint strike fighters which will make up the core of the RAF and aircraft carrier squadrons.

A senior SNP source has pointed out that the Scottish population share of the MoD’s £160 billion procurement plan for the next decade is £13bn.

He also said that Scotland would want to join in the £1bn upgrade of Warrior armoured vehicles in Bedford as an example of how a joint approach could benefit the rest of the UK. He said: “This is exactly how we can keep shipbuilding on the Clyde and work together as friends and partners to support the defence industry across the UK.”

He warned that a hard line on shipbuilding from the rest of the UK could see Scotland take its purchasing power “elsewhere”.

But an MoD spokesman said the proposal would not be accepted. He pointed out that the UK has not ordered complex warships from abroad since the Second World War and that there are no plans to change this strategy.

He said joint procurement projects usually only involved the early design stages and not construction.

“The MoD co-operates with other nations on the core design of some vessels however we have no plans to build Type 26 global combat ships overseas. Outside the world wars, the UK has not built a complex warship outside the UK for national security reasons and we have no intention of doing so in future.

“Collaborating on design with nations who have sizable fleet requirements allows UK companies to increase export potential and allows the MoD to take advantage of larger economies of scale.”

Jim Moohan, the GMB union representative on the Clyde, described the SNP proposal as “desperate.” He said: “It is no substitute for a strategy to maintain shipbuilding jobs in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s Future set outs that Scotland and the rest of the UK would have a concurrent need to procure new frigates, and that there are strong reasons why joint procurement of the vessels would be in the interests of both parties.

“However, in an independent Scotland the current Scottish Government is committed to taking forward the procurement of four new frigates – preferably through, joint procurement.

“This week we published a 670-page document setting out in great detail how Scotland will become independent and the benefits of taking decisions in Scotland.

“We have set out reasonable, common-sense proposals for co-operation in defence and I urge people to read those proposals directly and then make up their own minds on whether this makes sense both for Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

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