Shipping forecast

Having spent 51 years in the Merchant Navy, I find it disappointing that the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence does not even give it a passing mention.

There are few industries more important to Scottish society and our economy than shipping. Currently, there are some 41,000 people directly employed by the sector in Scotland.

The United Kingdom has set global standards and benchmarks for training, certification, and safety. Despite this, there are still examples of unscrupulous ship owners who are allowed to flout the rules.

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If there is to be a new Scottish registry, what assurances do we have about the standards that would be maintained, particularly if we are in a competitive situation with what is left of the UK and the values embodied in the Red Ensign?

I note that the white paper promises low corporate taxation as the incentive for investment in an independent Scotland.

No industry is more vulnerable to this approach and the “race to the bottom” it would encourage than merchant shipping. Lower levels of taxation would attract the kind of ship owners who would also expect lower standards of regulation and enforcement.

Anyone who thinks this could not happen should consider the example of the Isle of Man-­registered freight ferry which operates out of Stornoway under Scottish Government auspices, employing foreign labour at the rate of £4.19 per hour.

The Global Maritime Labour Convention is now in place to ensure that seafarers’ rights are protected. The United Kingdom has signed up to this. Would Scotland be prepared to do the same?

How would the recruitment prospects of youngsters from Scotland’s maritime communities be affected if there were two separate registries, rather than one?

Would it not be more likely that ship owners in the rest of the UK would recruit from their own colleges and apprenticeship schemes, rather than “crossing the Border” to what would then be a foreign jurisdiction?

The British Merchant Navy has served this country well in times of peace and war.

It deserves better than to be ignored in the white paper and hear vague promises that “it will be all right on the night”. We need answers now.

Duncan GordON

Chairman, Merchant Navy Association, Western Isles branch

Coll, Isle of Lewis