With just five weeks to go until Scotland votes on whether to leave the United Kingdom, and with support for the Union faltering, the British government has played one of it’s biggest trump cards and announced a ship building programme in a Scottish yard, the Guardian reports.
With most civilian shipbuilding having long left the United Kingdom and relocated to Germany or the Far East, the few large yards that remain operate purely on government subsidy, delivered in the shape of warship orders.
Having tried and failed to secure funding for super-carriers in several defence projects since the 1960s, the Royal Navy is now building and fitting out two of the largest ships ever to sail with the service at the Clyde yard in Scotland. With the build phase of these fleet carriers set to complete in 2017, the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde is now in question and depends on future orders from the government.
Having finally got their trophy asset carriers, the Royal Navy is now looking to complement it’s fleet with a number of smaller vessels for escort and low intensity duty, to which it’s more expensive assets such as Destroyers (£1 billion each) and aircraft carriers (£3 billion each) are not suited. Alongside the planned class of Type 26 ‘Future Sloop’ modular warships, this newly announced order for three River-class patrol ships will inject £350 million into the Scottish economy and safeguard up to 800 jobs.
This investment comes with a catch. Although the rule is sometimes circumvented in the case of auxiliary ships, British Naval procurement guidelines state that all warships have to be built in the UK, and could not be completed in a newly independent Scotland. As the steel on these ships isn’t due to be cut until well after the independence referendum, this proposed investment stands as an £350 million bribe to the voters of Glasgow.
As the percentage point lead for the ‘No’ campaign to remain in the UK is now at a record low, this announcement has come at an opportune time for the government. Even if the ships are never used – one of the carriers and a number of the UK’s patrol ships may be sold in the forthcoming defence review – building them is more important at this stage and we may expect more such announcements before September 18th.