Jim Duffy: Why a giant aircraft carrier brings tears to my eyes

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is a potent symbol of British military power (Picture: PA)
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is a potent symbol of British military power (Picture: PA)
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Scotland can be proud of its part in building HMS Queen Elizabeth and making UK a global power, says Jim Duffy.

It just dawned on me that we call ourselves ‘Great Britain’. How bold of us to let other counties know that we are Great. How wonderful that we can sit at the bar on the Costa Del Sol and know that we are from a country that has the word ‘Great’ in its title.

But, it meant nothing to me really until this week, when I caught up with some BBC iPlayer. Flicking through the documentaries, I spotted a gem called “Britain’s Biggest Warship”. A three-part series charting the genesis of our new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, a ship that actually could put the Great back into Great Britain.

As many of you will be aware, Donald Trump does not mince his words. As the tensions were mounting with North Korea over its nuclear and missile testing, he decided to send some pretty powerful assets into the region.

For the Americans and the world, this always sends a clear signal of power. Yes, having a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier parked off your coastline communicates serious intent backed by lethal force. For one, they are huge beasts. They have big guns backed up by guided missile destroyers and can send fighter jets right into the heart of your capital city if they wish.

With an aircraft carrier also comes a nuclear submarine as part of its protection. These underwater arsenals can pack a big punch, showering your capital city with multiple nuclear warheads. Not ideal on a sunny day.

Only last week at a rally of his supporters, President Trump made it clear that “strength” will keep us – sorry the USA – safe. Not giving in to dictators or rogue nations forged with military strength. He is so Tom Cruise that I think Cruise might recruit him for his next instalment of Mission Impossible.

READ MORE: Video: On board the HMS Queen Elizabeth

Maybe there is something in what the President says in relation to strength. There is no question in my mind that his predecessor was as a good as useless in deterring the likes of Russia or North Korea. Barack Obama had no real stomach for strong foreign policy. He’s more comfortable on the dance floor doing a Tony Blair – raking it in post-premiership from speaking engagements. But President Trump knows what power is and he may have hit the nail on the head in bringing North Korea to the table.

Perhaps this is what we need as we strive to maintain the Great in Great Britain. Enter HMS Queen Elizabeth and her crew. Throughout the documentary, which is a first-class piece of TV in really getting to grips with life on his new super carrier, the crew are indeed heard saying that the carrier will put the “Great back into Great Britain”. And they may be on to something. This was clear for all to see when the USA, France and Great Britain decided to strike Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons. We could only muster a couple of rusty old Tornadoes from Cypress, while the others had carriers, subs, and guided-missile warships. Even the French could out-gun us...

That is why this new era for the Royal Navy is vitally important for us over the next 50 years. The Queen Elizabeth will be joined by her sister carrier, currently under construction, and Great Britain will have the capacity to project its “strength” again in the global theatre. No more Dad’s Army as these carriers are filled with technology and highly trained professional crew members.

The Queen Elizabeth has a crew of about 700, which is way less than the big American carriers. Cleverly, the designers and engineers did not simply copy the American Nimitz class carriers, but started from scratch to build a new carrier that was totally unique. A good start.

READ MORE: HMS Queen Elizabeth joins carrier group exercise

Operating a lean crewing strategy, this carrier has been built to do things smarter. At 65,000 tonnes with a length of 280 meters, this floating city can travel 10,000 miles on one tank, while delivering up to 40 aircraft and 800 soldiers into any area where it is needed. It can travel at speeds in excess of 25 knots, which to you and me is nearly 30mph. As an asset, there is no doubt it will give Great Britain a big boost in how it is perceived globally.

But, what the documentary highlights even more and more importantly is the bonding and culture of the crew. As the ship’s captain is interviewed, he makes it clear that this big warship is impotent without its crew. These men and women of the Royal Navy, many at sea for the first time, show real dedication and commitment to making this warship come to live.

For me, this is actually the Great in Great Britain. These young people show what our young people are truly capable of if properly trained and motivated. They swell with pride when they get it right. They support each other when they get it wrong. They are human, but know that together they are great.

The Aircraft Carrier Alliance built this aircraft carrier primarily in Scotland. It’s an astonishing achievement of which we as a nation should be proud.

It signals that we have the engineering prowess and talent to build “Britain’s Biggest Warship”. There are many Scots sailing on her also. Perhaps we should be marketing this around the world to secure even more shipbuilding jobs in Scotland.

Watching this documentary had me teary-eyed a couple of times. It showed me what is achievable when great people come together to create great culture that creates great commitment to our security and a new hope for the Royal Navy.

Now, I really do understand what the Great in Great Britain means...