THE Scottish Government last night called on politicians to put “political differences aside” and unite “in the Scottish interest” to keep shipbuilding on the Clyde, after closure plans announced by defence giant BAE Systems left thousands of jobs in jeopardy at its two yards north of the Border.
Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will make the “strongest possible case” to save the yards and said ministers will work with the firm, as well as the UK government and opposition parties, to ensure the survival of the Govan and Scotstoun bases.
BAE has indicated that one of its three UK yards – the other is Portsmouth – will close, with a decision due by the end of the year. Union leaders at the Scottish yards, which employ about 3,500, are confident they will survive.
But city leaders in Portsmouth warned yesterday that the prospect of Scottish independence should lead the Westminster government to save the English yard, which could be the only one left in the UK after 2014.
Ms Sturgeon said: “BAE Systems is a hugely important employer in Scotland and we want to ensure that the strongest possible case for the retention of the Scottish yards is made and acted upon. Scotland showed during the Strategic Defence and Security Review an ability to put political differences aside and unite in the Scottish interest, and I believe that the same constructive and positive approach is needed now.
“The Scottish Government is monitoring this situation closely and will work with BAE, the UK government and opposition parties in Scotland.”
BAE chief executive Nigel Whitehead said that a decision on which yard is to close will be made by the end of the year. The firm has been hit by cuts in government military spending in recent years, which led to a 14 per cent fall in annual sales and left 2011 profits 7 per cent lower at £2 billion.
It is believed that the Clyde yards have the strongest economic case, but uncertainty over the prospect of Scottish independence could damage their position.
The UK government says it will not build military ships in a foreign country, which Scotland would effectively become if voters back independence in 2014. It is feared this may prompt BAE to stick with Portsmouth.
Jamie Webster, the union spokesman at the Clyde yards said it would be “devastating” if either Clyde yard was to close.
“We are confident we will come through this simply because of our performance in the last decade with the Type 45 ships. We are not complacent or arrogant, just confident,” he said.
Mr Webster added: “Any delay in the announcement will not help anybody, and we hope to hear within the next two or three weeks so that we know where we are in relation to the future. I am confident the Clyde will come through this.”
On the role of independence politics in the debate, he said: “Politics comes into everything, but in relation to the decision by BAE and the MoD, they can’t wait for the referendum, that’s two years away, and the decision has to be taken just now and the consequences lived with.”
But Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the constitutional issue must be taken into account by BAE and the UK government.
“If there is a vote for Scottish independence, it’s clear that it would be very difficult for yards in Scotland to bid for the work because the Scottish yards would be outside the UK,” the Lib Dem said.