The UK Tory Government again slipped out bad news the day before Westminster’s recess, presumably hoping nobody would notice their careless disregard for Scotland’s shipyards; a new low, even for this cynical governments.
The programme to build the next generation of Royal Navy Type 31e frigates has been suspended on cost grounds. This latest betrayal follows numerous procurement cutbacks, as the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) struggles with budget ‘black hole’ of £38,000 million.
This follows on from aircraft carriers built without planes and chainsaws taken to £4,300 million worth of Scotland-based Nimrod surveillance aircraft following the Tories gaining office in 2010. This left the Norwegian Air Force to patrol Scotland’s vital North Sea oil and gas fields.
Our shipyards face significant challenges. Prior to the 2014 Independence Referendum, Scotland was promised 13 new Type 26 Frigates if we voted ‘No.’ Post-Referendum it was eight, but contracts were signed for only three. The promised ‘Frigate Factory’ never materialised. The Tories continue evading scrutiny, failing to disclose their plans to cancel this work, preventing me or my colleagues from holding the UK Government to account.
In Scotland, the MoD has cut 2,000 military and civilian jobs since 2012. Previously, under Labour between 1997 and 2010 it was even worse; MoD figures show the defence underspend in Scotland totalled £5,600 million, with 10,700 defence jobs cut in Scotland. UK defence spending fell 11.6%. It was 27.9% in Scotland and out traditional regiments were merged into one; The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Although Scotland has 8.3% of the UK’s population, almost a third of its landmass and contributed 9.9% of all tax revenues over the last 20 years, Labour, Coalition and Tory UK governments consistently underspent on defence in Scotland. Less than 5.6% is now spent here. Locally, DM Munitions in Beith employed 322 people in 2010. It is now 220.
EU procurement laws exempt defence contracts, allowing the MoD to purchase equipment and services from UK suppliers. Yet of 6,000 contracts issued to small and medium firms over the last decade, only 50 (0.83%) were awarded to companies in Scotland.
The Tories intend to close another eight military bases across Scotland, representing a further 20% reduction in our defence footprint. This will have serious job implications and damage the communities and local economies impacted.
Falling service personnel numbers sit alongside the UK Government’s obsession with squeezing the conventional defence budget - backed by Labour - to fund the astronomical £205,000 million needed for Trident renewal. As numerous generals and admirals have made clear, with conventional forces shrinking year on year, Trident makes no sense in defence terms. Our armed forces and shipyards shouldn’t have to pay the price.
At its heart, the UK Government fails to recognise the serious consequences of its poor decisions on our defence capabilities and shipbuilding industry. The Tories in Scotland must stop their supine support for whatever the chaotic and disorganised UK Government decides and join us in demanding that promises to build frigates in Scotland are kept.
The Tories simply can’t be trusted on Defence, and seem happy to throw jobs in the Clyde shipyards overboard.