Hammond organ stays silent

I may be getting past it but, look as I might, I can’t find anywhere the definitive statement from Philip Hammond that London will not build warships in an independent Scotland. I know he has implied it by restating the current British position of not building outside the UK and claiming that won’t change, but that isn’t the same thing.

He didn’t say there would be no contracts to Scotland in his Commons statement and on at least two occasions – according to Hansard – body swerved open invitations from MPs to do so.

If there really was a concerted attempt to bully the Scots into rejecting independence to save jobs, wouldn’t he just spit it out? “I’m sorry to have to say this, Mr Speaker, but the unavoidable fact is that we won’t place the orders if Scotland votes to leave the UK. In that case, we will direct the contract to Portsmouth instead.” The whole House, Scots Unionists included, would have cheered to the rafters.

There. Sorted. Why on earth would he rely on those with dubious clout – Lamont and Carmichael – to carry a message when he had the stage to himself? He clearly has allowed them to state categorically that which he did not. How convenient to have handy stooges.

And, indeed, why would any Scot – Unionist politician or commentator – work so damnably hard to make such a point on his behalf when he didn’t actually state it himself? There is something demeaning about our national leaders falling over themselves to  say their own country would be  disinherited. Imagining myself for a moment to be a Unionist spokesman – don’t worry, Blair McDougall, it’s theoretical – I would work my socks off to say Hammond was definitely not threatening, that’s not what Unionists do. I would say it demonstrated how fragile these affairs can be when a government has to weigh up its options and there was simply no guarantee that the Clyde would come out on top after a Yes vote. But, I personally would be pressing the rUK government very hard indeed to ensure the work stayed on the Clyde, independence or not.

My problem – one of them – is that I don’t like threats. I would respond to a nuanced message like that by applying logic of my own. I would be much more likely to take seriously the underlying possibility of losing the work if they appealed to my common sense not my fear button. I wonder if that isn’t what many Scots mean when they say they don’t have enough information to decide…that nobody is speaking to them in a language they understand but instead they are brawling in the bar so that it is all overheated and incoherent.

BAE owns the yards and pays the workers. BAE is the shipbuilder. The shipbuilder is  not the state. The state is the client which orders and pays. BAE delivers. BAE has restructured its naval defence business in agreement with the state so that future orders can be delivered on time and on budget. How likely is it that, having reached this agreement, the state would renege and leave BAE with empty yards and unemployed staff? If that decision was based on a political reason and if that had been predictable all along – like a referendum – wouldn’t the state be liable for BAE’s costs (£3bn) and might it not be in breach of contract?

Also, from what Hammond and the procurement minister Philip Dunne have already said – as I mentioned in a previous post – the frigate decision is coming after the referendum and before the establishment of an independent state. In other words, Scotland will still be inside the UK when the contract is awarded. Therefore, technically, no conflict with the aim of building “in the UK.”

What remains true – and this seems to be the point that makes the Unionists’ knees knock – is that London can withdraw the contract. They have the power to do so. It would be counter productive and it would be ferociously expensive and it would damage Britain’s credibility in the global arms business. But they could do it. I think it’s that raw power that turns Unionists to jelly. They can’t envisage their own country coping with real authority because they’re so used to big decisions being made elsewhere by their betters, that they shrink from it. Real power is beyond our capability. It’s why they scoff at Salmond bigging up Scotland and why they’re at it again this week laughing at him heading off to China. “Och, Eck, man…you’re just embarrassing us by pretending we’re a real country. Leave it to the posh boys in the Foreign Office…overseas stuff is not for the likes of us. Our job is to do as we’re telt” You can almost hear them worrying among themselves that if you ask for too much, the Master will turn on us and we’ll get nothing. The word, I think, is deference. Unionists have been saying all week what a great deal this is and implying we need to be grateful – another cowering, rather than towering, week for Alistair Carmichael. Grateful for what is our due and grateful for 800 job losses?

I don’t think they mean harm, as such. They are simply devoid of the normal responses of functioning people who instinctively put their country first and assume their fellow countrymen do the same. They don’t believe they are from a country worth standing up for. At least, they will speak up for Scotland but only to the point where it comes into conflict with the people they respect most – the British state.

And where did this great tradition of building warships only in Britain come from? If it’s true, why have British interests been seeking partners in Brazil and India? http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/uk-proposes-building-future-warships-with-india-111081100061_1.html

The Eurofighter is being constructed in, I think five European countries, the Army uses weaponry made in European nations, Trident is an American-built system to which the US provides Britain with the firing codes and even the technology to be placed inside the new navy frigates comes from a variety of other countries. Time to join the modern world, RN?

Shame about Portsmouth, though. I too like a bit of tradition and I’m currently reading a new biography of Nelson. So I give a salute to the south coast yards but I think the workers there are being misused if they are led into an Us and Them tribal debate by the likes of Carmichael. There were politics in the awarding  of submarine refit work to Devonport not Rosyth in 1993. (Thanks, Malcolm Rifkind). But I haven’t heard the commercial case made for Portsmouth in this instance. We’re left with a bigger question which is why have we allowed shipbuilding to decline – and the Royal Navy to become an operational joke – instead of diversifying and modernising? And, no, I don’t think the Scottish Government has been nearly quick enough out of the blocks on this one either.

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0 thoughts on “Hammond organ stays silent

  1. You and Ian Macwhirter are on the same wavelength Derek – http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/dangerous-games.22651871

    Two of my favourite journalists ageeing! – There’s hope for us yet!

  2. ow likely is it that, having reached this agreement, the state would renege and leave BAE with empty yards and unemployed staff?

    End of.

  3. Of course, maybe Hammond has calculated that a yes vote would be even more likely (than it is at the moment) if he came out and treatened shipbuilding on the clyde in the event of a yes vote. Maybe he realises that the key to a no vote is to not look like we are being pushed out of the door (take note Osborne, Duncan Smith, Carmichael and Davidson). What is true is that there is zero tactical inteligence being shown by both Carmichael and Davidson (who i wonder if he will be targeted at the Westminster Election in 2015 over this?)

    As for the state of shipbuilding, the clyde (as well as the other traditional shipbuilding areas on the Tyne-Tees and Belfast as well as the south coast) have all been badly damaged by decisions made in Westminster by parties of both hues. Had there been the modernisation programmes enacted in the 1960’s and 70’s, then Thatcher’s policy of de-insustrialisation would not have been such an easy decision to make.

  4. I get the feeling that the ‘them and us’ narrative is a well thought out strategy..
    If Westminster thinks that Scotland is going, far better to prepare the ground in advance.
    They would much rather the southern voter felt as if they had got rid of a northern pest, than been abandoned by a confident neighbour. The Empire likes to feel superior, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Scotland leaving is somehow turned into Englands plan all along!

  5. Hammond won’t say that the ships cannot be built outside the UK because MODUK has been courting Turkey, Australia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada for ages as partners in building them (largely because the UK cannot afford to go it alone after spunking away billions on Blair’s vanity white elephants HMS Queen Elizabeth & HMS Prince of Wales):



    What makes Scotland so singularly awful? Doesn’t it make you feel all Gallipoli that Turkey is considered a more trustworthy partner?

  6. I don’t reckon the Scottish government needs to be quick out of the blocks on this one – don’t interrupt your enemy when they are in a fankle?

  7. What has shocked me is not the behaviour of Davidson and Carmichael,they are trying to maintain their own jobs. However the union official Mr Dolan who according to Davidson met with him and came to an agreement that they would push for the contract to be cancelled should Scotland become independent.
    How can this man go back to the workers and admit that he and the local MP were going to push for the Clyde to lose this work.And how can our media ignore this scandal.

  8. The tactic seems to be UK cabinet minister jets into Scotland for a day ; makes oblique comments about defence, pensions, shipbuilding etc potentially being adversely impacted upon by a YES referendum vote which then allows Scottish politicians to grandstand on TV and media and interpret it as a negative for future of Scotland if she leaves the UK – its a double act and not a very good one , but it relies on the average Scot not being very clued up on the issues. Truth be told its not that they aren’t getting the information they need Derek ,maybe too many of them read papers like Express, Record or Daily mail which generally preach the establishment view.
    Commentators like yourself, MacWhirter or Ian Bell and others don’t get enough exposure to put the other side of the argument to the average punter and the media generally don’t do nearly enough in my opinion to interrogate this disinformation and present the facts and counter arguments which could get this sham act booed off the stage.

  9. and if we vote no the contracts may still get cancelled

  10. Um I may be wrong, but won’t BAE remain a UK company regardless of the referendum result? I mean they have facilities in many countries, but still remain a UK firm yes? That being the case the order for the frigates would still be going to a UK contractor. Kind of makes a slight nonsense of the whole stushie raised by Carmichael, Davidson, Hammond et al.

  11. There are surely two ways to look at this; Scots yards are getting contracts from their one single customer for being very good and highly skilled providers, but they are too expensive to attract other customers, so should they cut the link to that one highly specifying client (MOD/RN) and seek new customers?

    Just what will this say to Hammond and his unionist cronies, go elsewhere for your ships, we ain’t interested.

    Some years ago it was thought to be strategically naive to put all your eggs into one basket and to gear-up for only one customer (M&S). That’s exactly the situation here; the Clyde yards have being led by the nose, now totally dependent and fit for only the one purpose.

    And let’s not lose sight of the reality that 830 odd jobs are being cut from the Clyde while work is already on the books but is being held-over pending the referendum vote. Blackmail or what?

    Our stooopid new kid on the block Carmichael is reportedly ‘grateful’, so let’s see his reaction to some ‘good news’, let the Scottish Government publish a list of ships needed post-independence and all the heavy equipment needed for offshore energy generation and let BAE get their Clyde facilities into condition to bid, or not, as they prefer. But let it be known that the Scottish Government will invest in the Clyde to be no longer dependent on one specialised customer.

    So take that perfidious and your bunch of ratbag Scots torags.

  12. Hammond seems to be clueless on this matter. Perhaps he has spent too much time playing with his organ you speak of.

  13. Oh Lordy.

    Here’s what Hammond said: ”The UK has never outside of the two world wars built complex warships outside the UK.” He added: ” ‘I see no reason to expect that the UK would want to change from the position that we will build complex warships in the UK for reasons of maintaining sovereign capability in the future.”

    I just love the contortions some in the YES side go through to prove that no means yes.

    Shades of Mr Salmond’s now notorious TV interview:

    Andrew Neil: “Have you sought the advice of your law officers?”

    Alex Salmond: “We have yes”

    Remember that pop pickers?

    Finally, a big thank you to the massed ranks of cybernats who disgraced themselves with their obnoxious attacks on the shipyard workers. How dare they contradict Nicola!

  14. Creating this kind of ‘undercurrent’ is a tried and tested method of undermining confidence – as soon as someone takes on implied responsibility for an action there is a statement of intent of sorts and as such a solid basis for people to make judgements. Sowing the seeds for the ‘what if’ factor sows uncertainty and it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows if there is uncertainty then people will cling to the tried and tested rather than taking a gamble – You have sharp eyes, keep them open this won’t be the only field of uncertainty they sow x

  15. Can anyone tell me if I’ve got this right?
    There are to be 2 frigates built ?
    They will be built on the Clyde?
    They are to be built for the Royal Navy?
    They are currently being designed at the Clyde?
    The design is too top secret to be built by a foreign country?
    Ian Davidson wants the contract to be moved to Portsmouth if Scotland becomes Independent ?
    Scotland currently contributes to the defence budget so in effect is paying toward the design of the frigates?
    The people designing the top secret plans will have collective amnesia after Independence?
    Is that really Ian Davidsons argument?

  16. Deary me! – I wish those who reply would read comments properly and comment by return properly.

    To keep it simple – if the Clyde Yards are operating at the top end of the price range by working to the specifications of a single customer that seems to have more money than sense and in doing so their production capacity is totally dedicated to that customer – that’s pretty crazy and diversification is more than needed to overcome the potential whimsies of that one customer.

    Followed up by a philosophical mentality that goes against the creation of skilled jobs in Scotland by the Scottish Government to make these Clyde Yards competitive- because it somehow will fall foul of the EU – and here is me thinking the EU is for creating jobs and sustainability through training and skilling-up ? As I say, deary me!

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