SNP Councillor calls Alistair Carmichael a “supposed Scot” as furious debate over shipyards continues for too long

It’s been a fairly depressing couple of days for anyone watching the independence referendum campaign north of the border. Both sides would do well to remember that people are losing their jobs in Portsmouth, Glasgow and Rosyth after the BAE Systems announcement yesterday. It would have been appropriate, I think, for the main focus to have been on support for the people who were going to be out of work, but, no. Sadly and predictably, there’s been a big row about what would happen if Scotland votes for independence next year.

It stands to reason that if Scotland votes to stay in the UK, the UK’s warships will be built on the Clyde. That’s a certainty. If Scotland votes for independence, the rest of the UK has 3 options.

  • Open their own shipyard, maybe that might involve re-opening Portsmouth;
  • Keep the contracts in Glasgow
  • Look elsewhere

The SNP Government, as it always does when questioned, just kind of shrugs its shoulders and says it’ll all be fine,  that it makes sense for the work to continue in Glasgow for skill and cost-effectiveness reasons. They might well be right on that, but what about the politics? Would a rUK government which has just had to do a major restructuring job want to pay a foreign country to do a job it could and would normally do within its own shores? How would its electorate react if it did?

This argument continued through the late night political shows last night and through First Minister’s Questions (answered by Deputy FM Nicola Sturgeon as Alex Salmond is in China) this afternoon. By the end of her exchange with Labour leader Johann Lamont, I was, frankly, over all the wrangling. There is no need to make quite such a meal of a self-evident point. All the pro-UK parties need to do is say that the work is certain to stay in Scotland if we stay in the UK, not so certain if we leave. We don’t need 20 minutes of sabre-rattling when it’s not the most pressing issue about all of this. This pudding has about 10 times more eggs than it actually needs.

I will at least give Willie Rennie credit for asking the most concise and pertinent question which completely undermined the argument Nicola had been trying to develop using that old trick of quoting her own words from several years ago back at her. He said:

The big problem for the Deputy First Minister is that what she has said to Johann Lamont today is not what she has said in the past about procuring ships. Let us look at what she said about a fisheries protection vessel before she was a minister. She said:

it should be reclassified as a grey ship in order that the work can simply be given to a Scottish yard.”

The Sturgeon shipbuilding doctrine, powerfully put, was that warships should be built inside the national boundary. She wanted the then Scottish Government to pretend that our fishing patrol ships were warships so that they could be built here, but now she wants the UK Government to do the opposite. Does she see no inconsistency between what she said then and what she is saying now?

Elsewhere, Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland, said that Portsmouth would be well placed to build the frigates if Scotland voted for independence. It’s understandable, but I wonder if it’s fair to give Portsmouth false hope given the current state of the polls which show a clear majority against independence.

A couple of months ago, Carmichael called out Alex Salmond after the First Minister inferred that the case against independence was the case against Scotland. We all have to live with each other come 19th September next year so keeping that sort of divisive and unnecessary language out of the debate is essential. Everyone, on both sides of this debate, has Scotland’s interests at heart and to pretend otherwise is, as Alistair said, “ludicrous and offensive.”

Sadly, there’s no shortage of SNP elected representatives ready to make such jibes. SNP Fife Councillor David Alexander, called Alistair a “supposed Scot” on another Fife Councillor’s public Facebook page:
David Alexander supposed Scot
It’s nasty stuff and, sadly, we are likely to see more of it as the referendum gets closer. The SNP is highly disciplined and very hierarchical. If a message went out from the top that these sorts of comments should not be made, it would probably be obeyed. The problem is that the First Minister himself has not set the best example.
Questioning the Scottishness of the Secretary of State is not acceptable. Sure, there a couple of parliamentarians on the pro-UK side (not Liberal Democrats) that I’d love to send on a fact finding mission to somewhere with no broadcast or internet signal till after the referendum, but the Yes side has a much wider problem with its supporters expressing such unpleasant views.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Nov '13 - 8:24pm

    I agree that the polls make that the likely outcome but there is never room for complacency. We need to make the pro UK case in a way that engages people & we haven’t done that as well as we could have so far.

  • Tom Robinson 7th Nov '13 - 11:02pm

    Carmichael should be promising to do his best for Scotland whether the vote is “Yes” or “No”.

    The fact that he cannot confirm that is his position undermines his credibility, and even the ultra-unionist Scotsman has attacked his politicking on the constitutional issue both on Grangemouth and the Clyde shipbuilding.

  • @jedibeeftrix
    “What matters is the high-end skill to design complex naval shipbuilding, metal bashing can be sourced from anywhere”

    Whilst I largely agree with these sentiments, I have come across US studies that indicate that the maintenance of high-end skills is facilitated by them being close to manufacturing/production. This probably being particularly relevant when building with new technologies, such as plastic hulls as used on the Hunt class.

  • Richard Dean 8th Nov '13 - 2:14am

    I agree. So called “high-end” design skills are very much enhanced by inputs from the people who actually build a thing. If you take out “shop floor” experience and interaction from the design process, you will almost always get something that doesn’t work very well, if at all.

  • jedibeeftrix 8th Nov '13 - 8:17am

    certainly there would be a benefit, if we are willing to pay the price to keep naval shipbuilding alive in a post-yes rUK.

    i would hope that we would pay that price, but we could live without it.

  • jedibeeftrix 8th Nov '13 - 8:23am

    I would highly recommend the comments of Not a Boffin here:

    A very knowledgeable naval industry insider, and well worth your time.

  • nvelope2003 8th Nov '13 - 11:10am

    Tom Robinson – will there be, or need to be, a Secretary of State for Scotland in Westminster if Scotland becomes Independent ? The ghastly thought has occurred to me that we might still have one together with a large office staff, even though he has no work to do. Presumably the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will deal with Scotland as it does with the Irish Republic.
    Another thought – what happens if Scotland votes for independence next September but negotiations about the details are still continuing when the 2015 general election is due. Will there still be elections for the Westminster Parliament in Scotland ? And if Labour win because of their 40 or so Scottish MPs will they have to leave office when those MPs have to leave Westminster. The Labour Party must be getting very worried.

  • Just a minor point here. I don’t think we should be falling into the trap of the Yes camp of calling the continuing UK in the event of a Scottish vote for independence the “rUK”.

    It will simply carry on as the UK, as it was before. I’m sure we will not be changing our name because one twelfth of the population chooses to go in another direction.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Nov '13 - 4:40pm

    Yes, but we have to draw a distinction for now as between what the UK is now and what it would be without Scotland. And I think you might actually miss us if we left. Think what it would do to politics and the make up of Westminster.

  • nvelope2003 9th Nov '13 - 12:25pm

    The official title of the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Before 1949 when Southern Ireland became an independent republic it was called the UK of GB and Ireland but if Scotland left there would be no UK of Great Britain as Great Britain would no longer be a state, just a geographical expression. The country would become the United Kingdom of England and Wales and Northern Ireland unless an independent Scotland agreed otherwise.

  • @Caron Lindsay “Think what it would do to politics and the make up of Westminster.”
    It would make it a lot more governable. The current situation where there are more than 10 parties at Westminister, the majority of whom are only interested in their own small part of the UK is what makes it difficult to get viable coalitions together when there so many micro-parties. Countries with PR normally have a rule that parties need at least 5 percent to be in parliament. Maybe we should have something similar, at least for confidence and supply votes. Then we would be looking at either one party having an overall majority or there being any 2 out of 3 able to form a coalition, instead of the shotgun marriage we have now.

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