Thursday, 13 November 2014

I see no ships

Prior to the referendum we were promised that the new frigates required by the Royal Navy would only be procured from the last remaining shipyard on the Clyde if Scotland voted NoA Yes vote would mean the end of ship-building in Scotland.  This was debunked at the time by Wings over Scotland, but evidently the 55% preferred to believe the UK government on this and obediently voted No.

So what do we hear yesterday?  The MoD is considering pulling the contract for the new frigates from Scotland and placing it elsewhere, possibly in France.  The comments came from Admiral Zambellas, the head of the Royal Navy, which lends credence to the story, since he's the man with the purse strings.

Today Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has rushed in to say that the government have not changed policy (ie that complex warships for the Royal Navy can only be built in the UK) and that the frigates will be built on the Clyde regardless of what Admiral Zambellas says.

Well, this makes for a pretty kettle of fish (sorry).  Who to believe?  On balance, I'd say the Admiral has it.  He's the one negotiating with BAe systems on the new frigates, and this looks like part of the negotiating process (ie give me what I want at the price I want or I walk).  The response from Michael Fallon is quite considered - 'we have not changed our policy' - and is basically weasel words.  After all, a policy is generally a guideline, not a commitment, and they will be able to walk away saying that it was their policy but events meant they were unable to follow it - alas!

If the contract does go abroad this will be immensely damaging to the political parties involved in the Better Together-No Thanks campaign, as the ship-building work was one of the key arguments in their case to retain the union.  Losing this work will only make a Yes vote more likely next time, as the scales start to fall from the eyes of the 55%.  And once the scales have fallen from your eyes, as the 45% have found, there's no going back.

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