Leaders: No room politicking over shipbuilding contracts

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE loss of hundreds of shipyard jobs on Clydeside and at Rosyth is a tragedy for the men and women involved, especially for those with specialist skills that are not easily transferable to other industries in Scotland’s already shrinking heavy manufacturing sector.

Yesterday was a dark day too for the people of Portsmouth, who have been building ships for the Royal Navy for five centuries, and who are going to see shipbuilding end with the loss of 1,000 livelihoods.

It is understandable that many in Portsmouth feel anger, believing the decision to favour the Clyde over the Solent is a political sop to the Scots to stop them voting for independence. It must certainly look that way.

But there is no evidence that the politics of the independence referendum played any part in this decision. There are sound arguments for retaining shipbuilding on the Clyde for technical and commercial reasons alone.

The Portsmouth workers can be forgiven for feeling aggrieved, but their anger is misdirected. After all, the yards north of the Border have not escaped Scot-free, by any measure.

English anger against Scotland is, however, a most regrettable and distressing development in the referendum campaign, and it is to be hoped that it is both short-lived and a one-off.

Here in Scotland, news of job cuts for Govan and Scotstoun yesterday was tempered by a commitment from Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to give the Clyde yards a contract for three new offshore patrol vessels. These are expected to keep the remaining workforce in a job until the Royal Navy is ready to order its new Type 26 warships.

On an understandably sombre day for the industry, this at least held out the prospect of a future for Scottish shipbuilding.

But an unnecessarily discordant note was struck by UK ministers, who again said the eventual awarding of the contract for the Type 26 ships would be contingent on Scotland rejecting independence in next year’s referendum. The Ministry of Defence’s policy of only building warships on home territory is well established. But if Scotland became independent, what remained of the UK (rUK) would be without a suitable yard, given the ending of shipbuilding in Portsmouth and by then even if the yards were to re-open a revival of a skilled workforce would be unlikely. In such circumstances, rUK would have no option but to build the new Type 26 warships at a “foreign” yard.

However, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael was quick to point out that if that were the case, then Scotland would have to compete with Poland, South Korea or Singapore. To some eyes, it looked as if he was suggesting that he would punish the Scots for voting for independence.

While there may have been some cold logic to Mr Carmichael’s assertions, his tone – and especially his timing – was most unfortunate.

Moral duty to act on climate change

GIVEN the increase in environmental awareness over the past decade, and efforts made by our own country and others to cut down on carbon emissions, it is disheartening, if not a complete surprise, to hear from the United Nations that greenhouse gases have reached a record high.

While many developed countries have been reducing their carbon footprints, that incremental shift has not been enough to offset the massive industrialisation of emerging economies such as China, where growth is at a premium and green considerations are far down the list of priorities. The Chinese want the comforts and lifestyle we in the West take for granted, and do not take kindly to being told by already developed nations that they must achieve this more “sustainably”. Perhaps understandably, they read this as “more slowly” and “with higher costs”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that, without further action, global temperatures will rise by 1.1C by the end of the century, and sea levels will rise.

The cynic’s response would be to urge UK ministers to abandon what would seem to be a hopeless cause. But we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of such cynicism. We cannot use this new UN report as an excuse to do nothing.

If we can do something to reduce greenhouse gases, then we should. The assertion that it is not having any effect is impossible to prove, given the number of extraneous variables involved. But perhaps the most compelling argument for refusing to be deflected from the green course we have embarked upon is a moral one. We will never persuade others to act on climate change unless we act on our convictions ourselves.