The Deputy First Minister was criticised by trade unionists for suggesting that Type-26 frigates would be built in Scotland if her bid for independence was successful.
Union leaders told Ms Sturgeon to stop “using” them by claiming that British warships would continue to be built on the Clyde in the event of a “Yes” vote.
Ms Sturgeon was taken to task by John Dolan, GMB convener at the Scotstoun yard, when she and the finance secretary John Swinney met with the unions following BAE Systems’ announcement that 1,775 shipbuilding jobs are to be lost across the UK.
Mr Dolan was responding to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks at First Minister’s Questions this week when she said Portsmouth’s closure – where almost 1,000 jobs will go – meant that the Clyde was now the “best” and the “only” place to build the ships in the UK.
“She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town. I’m afraid it is not,” said Mr Dolan, who claimed there were several yards south of the Border where the frigates could be built.
“Portsmouth is still alive. It doesn’t close until next year some time. There’s shipbuilders in Cammell Laird in Liverpool. You have got the A&P Group on the Tyne, who are shipbuilders, and you have got Barrow in Furness.
“So to say if Scotland goes independent we will still be building Type-26 frigates ... listen, I assure you that if we go for independence we will not be building. We have been told quite clearly by the UK government ... personally, I have been told quite clearly that will not happen.”
He added: “We are not a political football, you cannot play with people’s jobs. We laid it on the line. Stop using us. Stop telling people that we are safe, so people become complacent.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “We absolutely agree we do not want BAE workers used as a political football – they are the first priority in this situation.
“The Clyde shipyards have a proud tradition of building complex warships, including the Type 45 destroyer, large sections of the aircraft carriers, and a significant amount of the design work for the Type 26s – and the simple fact is that the closure of Portsmouth’s naval shipbuilding facilities will leave the Clyde as the only place with such capacity on these shores.
“We see joint procurement into the future as being the most efficient way of meeting the mutual defence needs of Scotland and the UK – and above all we need to have a more diverse customer base for the Clyde shipyards beyond just military contracts.”
This week Defence Secretary Philip Hammond indicated that an order for 13 Type-26 ships was in line to go to the Clyde, although the final decision will be made after next September’s referendum.
Of the 1,775 redundancies, 940 are in Portsmouth. The remaining 835 come from the Govan and Scotstoun yards in Glasgow, the Fife yard at Rosyth and BAE’s offices in Filton, near Bristol.
At a meeting in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon pledged that the Scottish Government would work with redundant shipyard workers to find them new jobs.
Ms Sturgeon said she was hopeful that those laid off would be able to transfer their skills to other industries. More detail about the job losses is expected to emerge from talks between the company and unions early next week.