Scottish political absurdity was displayed this week with a SNP MP seeking MoD naval contracts for Scotland, whilst the Scottish Government failed to allow a Clyde Yard to even tender to build CalMac ferries for Islay.
BAE at Govan are an outstanding Yard and deserve the work on merit. But the same skills exist on the Lower Clyde, as on the Upper Clyde, as they once did on estuaries on either coast. Not just Yarrows but John Brown’s, Fairfield’s, Robbs, Hall Russell’s and many more. Names that resonated across Scotland along with the bedlam that went with work and reverberating around the globe with praise for the quality of the ships produced.
Shipbuilding might not be as totemic as coal, but it’s still part of Scotland’s industrial soul. It’s why there must be support for it today. It’s not just who we are but the nation we can be. The Yards may be depleted and it’s a new generation working in them. But the skills exist and what they need’s a chance to show that.
Writing a biography of Jimmy Reid a few years back I was privileged to meet men who had worked with him and been involved in the UCS struggle. When Jimmy came up with the inspired idea of a work in, it was more than just their own jobs they were fighting for. They knew what closure of the Yards would mean not just to them but to their communities. Many had lived through the privation of mass unemployment in years before and knew what their collective fate would be.
Sadly, much has come to pass. But still Ferguson Marine hangs on in Port Glasgow. Its not the scale Scott Lithgow’s was in Greenock, but it matters to the town and it should to all of us. This isn’t just about them or our past. It’s also about our future as an industrial nation. Inverclyde cannot and shouldn’t just be a base for call centres or a destination for cruise liners, where locals get a wage or wages doing multiple jobs in the gig economy.
It must be the vibrant centre of relaunching our shipbuilding industry. Our island communities badly need new vessels, and the Clyde’s where they should be built. Starting with our own ferries but looking to win other orders. Based in Port Glasgow but with the possibility of expanding elsewhere.
Failing to do so is self-inflicted harm on the nation. The Scottish Government should hang its head in shame that its emulating Ted Heath’s regime. The Islay tender should be revisited and if they don’t do so then they deserve to pay the political price the Tories did.
More importantly as the country got behind UCS in the 1970s, so it must rally to Fergusons today. Changes there must be with CMAL, the tendering company, abolished and senior management at Fergusons replaced. But contracts for the smaller island ferries and the Gourock Dunoon replacement must go there. It’s about an industrial future.