BAE at Govan is an outstanding yard and deserve the work on merit. But the same skills exist on the Lower Clyde, as on the Upper Clyde, as they once did on estuaries on either coast.
Not just Yarrows but John Brown’s, Fairfield’s, Robb’s, Hall Russell’s and many more. Names that resonated across Scotland – along with the bedlam that went with the work –and reverberated around the globe with praise for the quality of the ships produced.
Shipbuilding might not be as totemic as coal, but it’s still part of Scotland’s industrial soul. It’s why there must be support for it today. It’s not just who we are but the nation we can be. The yards may be depleted and it’s a new generation working in them, but the skills exist and what they need is a chance to show that.
Writing a biography of Jimmy Reid a few years back, I was privileged to meet men who had worked with him and been involved in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders struggle. When Jimmy came up with the inspired idea of a work-in, it was more than just their own jobs they were fighting for.
They knew what closure of the yards would mean not just to them but to their communities. Many had lived through the privations of mass unemployment in years before and knew what their collective fate would be.
Sadly, much has come to pass. But still Ferguson Marine hangs on in Port Glasgow. It’s not the scale that Scott Lithgow’s was in Greenock, but it matters to the town and it should matter to all of us.
This isn’t just about them or our past. It’s also about our future as an industrial nation. Inverclyde cannot and should not just be a base for call centres or a destination for cruise liners, where locals get a wage or wages doing multiple jobs in the gig economy.
It must be the vibrant centre in which our shipbuilding industry is relaunched. Our island communities badly need new vessels, and the Clyde’s where they should be built. Starting with our own ferries but looking to win other orders. Based in Port Glasgow but with the possibility of expanding elsewhere.
Failing to do so is self-inflicted harm on the nation. The Scottish government should hang its head in shame that it’s emulating Ted Heath’s regime. The Islay tender should be revisited and if they don’t do so then they deserve to pay the political price the Tories did.
More importantly, as the country got behind UCS in the 1970s, so it must rally to Ferguson’s today. Changes there must be with CMAL, the tendering company, abolished and senior management at Ferguson’s replaced. But contracts for the smaller island ferries and the Gourock Dunoon replacement must go there. It’s about an industrial future.