Xenophobia and Independence.

Our very good friend Kate has now retired from her job, which was with a small NGO that did irreparable good by promoting the rights of workers (especially women workers) in emergent nations. She and her family have lived in Scotland since the 1970s. These are her views on Scotland’s future, based on that experience. 

“I’ve worked or lived in upwards of 25 newly independent countries. As we approach the vote next year I’ve been reflecting. 

I’ve been caught up in the euphoria – ‘the rainbow nation’ comes to mind. All are welcome to be citizens of – Kenya, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Uganda, Zimbabwe . I could list many more. The new country will be everything everyone hoped for.

Then comes the hard part, negotiating the terms of the settlement. Global powers hold all the cards and extract a very, very high price. What you want is not what you get. NATO membership screwed Central Europe with disastrous consequences for their social welfare budgets. IMF loan conditions cut welfare, imposed privatization and market forces which massively disadvantaged the poor in Africa, Hungary and elsewhere. Europe has been squeezing the Greeks and installed an unelected president in Italy. Nearer to home, the credit rating agencies appeared to be running Britain for a while. 

So what are Scotland’s tactics for the crucial negotiations? I’ve heard the ‘wish list’ but nothing about how we will prevent powerful others dictating the settlement. 

When the going gets tough… and it will … then the enemy without easily translates to an enemy within. Individual Russians, European immigrants, white farmers, Serbs or Asian traders come to signify all that is wrecking the dream.

Friends tell me that this won’t happen because Scots are different… this special pleading worries me even more. No nation is composed of ‘special people’. I’m not saying don’t go for independence – only do it in full knowledge and preparedness for the consequences and accept the inevitable 10 years or more of frustration and austerity which lie ahead of any new, small nation.

After 37 years.. I’ll not be here to suffer it… or take the blame for what’s gone wrong …I’m British and will decamp over the border to enjoy my twilight years”

These wise and well-chosen words were given extra urgency by the BBC Question Time broadcast on 28th November 2013 from Falkirk. It was marked by some extraordinary claims from DFM Nicola Sturgeon regarding the newly published White Paper “Scotland’s Future” (coincidentally an anagram of “Fraudulent Costs”) and some even more extraordinary histrionics from the “non-political” “celebrity”, Eddi Reader.

But what was most noteworthy was the attitude of those members of audience who spoke about immigration and the EU. Previous to the programme, one contributor on Twitter had predicted: 

Mhairi Hunter ‏@MhairiHunter1There probably will be a lot of #indyref argy bargy on #bbcqt 2nite but tell you what we won’t get. Racism, xenophobia…”

In fact that is exactly what we got. One audience member claimed all the houses on his local council list were reserved for immigrants; another described Gretna and the Scottish Borders as the “first line of defence against foreigners”; and a third demanded a Scottish in-out referendum on EU membership, like UKIP or the Tory right. All of this suggested that central Scotland is not much different to middle England.

This is what some of us have believed all along, but is apparently news to many who may not know their neighbours as well as they though they did, and should act as a timely reminder that some Scots can be as xenophobic as some English people. And it is of course reminiscent of the orthodox assumption in the 1980s that Scotland was “different”, and that there was no racism in Scotland.

This of course turned out to be totally wrong, and we cannot ignore the fact that Scottish exceptionalism in xenophobia and racism is a myth. Kate’s fears – and those of many more of us – are likely to turn out to be well-founded, and a post-independence Scotland could be a very uncomfortable place to be English when the fanciful prospectus of “Scotland’s Future” fails and the finger of blame is pointed. Those who seek independence should acknowledge this danger, and weigh the risk in making their decision; to refuse to do so is to do a disservice to the future of Scotland and to that of our fellow citizens.

Portsmouth, the Clyde and BAe – The Correct Decision.

Warning: this blog will not please my friends, relatives (and many fellow Pompey fans) in Hampshire. Sorry.

The realities in the case of UK shipbuilding appear to be these:

In the business case:

  • Commercial shipbuilding is now overwhelmingly concentrated in the Far East, where their yards operate on a completely different costbase to those in the west. The only exceptions are for specialist ships: for example, some passenger ships (where Germany has a market lead) and fishing vessels (made in Spain).
  • This leaves ships commissioned by the government as the sole core product available to UK yards. Of these, civilian vessels (e.g., public service ferries) are subject to EU procurement law, and must be put out to tender on a Europe-wide basis. Warships, however, are exempt from this requirement, and can be awarded by a government to its domestic yards.
  • The result for the UK is that its shipbuilding orders cannot support more than two yards. Currently there are three (Govan, Scotstoun, and Portsmouth.)
  • In choosing two out of three, there would need to be a very strong business case to locate these some 450 miles apart. There is none: in fact, between them, Govan and Scotstoun have the greater range of capacity, skills and integration.

In the local economic impact case:

  • Unemployment in Hampshire in September 2013 stood at 7.7% . In Glasgow, in 2012 it was 12%  (Both ILO count.) This means that on the one hand, Glasgow needs the work more and on the other Hampshire has a greater need for workers and skills in the labour market.
  • Portsmouth is better placed to absorb job losses than Glasgow. The south Hampshire area is a world centre for the small boat and yacht building and maintenance industry, with more marina capacity and employment in the Harbour, the Hamble and further afield at Cowes IOW than in the whole of Scotland.
  • This is in addition to naval repair work pledged to replace the shipbuilding orders in the current review. There is therefore much greater demand for some of the transferable shipbuilding skills than in Glasgow, where the leisure and small boat industry is miniscule.
  • Outside of the re-employment of redundant staff in the maritime sector, regeneration and creation of new employment is likely to be quicker in Portsmouth. In particular, the release of MoD land and other measures[1] is likely to create jobs at a greater rate than any similar proposal in Glasgow, where investment in riparian land near to the yards is already stalled, for example between Finnieston and Glasgow Harbour.

So, to the politics.

  • It actually appears that the politics are in line with the business case and the local economic impact case – for now. We can have our suspicions as to how much the Scottish Independence Referendum influenced the outcome, but two circumstances must be borne in mind. The first is that independence is not a popular cause, with the latest polls showing support stuck at a historic low of 25%[2] so the incentive to try to buy the Scottish vote is reduced or even redundant. The second is that BAE and the UK government knew that they would be damned either way, and so did the right thing – and followed the business case. In which case, the politics follow the decision, rather than vice versa.
  • For the Coalition Government, it means having to be able to convince the people in marginal constituencies: Portsmouth South (LibDem with personal problems) and North (Tory won off Labour in 2010) that the measures taken will guarantee a future for the workers affected. They will also need to make a convincing case that the decision was not taken on grounds of Referendum weakness. So far Mike Hancock’s posturing suggests that this sentiment will play a large role.
  • In Scotland, it is irrefutable that had the Referendum already been held and had resulted in a Yes vote, BAe would have decided to have consolidated shipbuilding in Portsmouth rather than on the Clyde. The two Glasgow yards would have been asset-stripped and liquidated.
  • The timing of the contracts means that this will still be an option on 19th September 2014. If there is a Yes vote, the Scottish Government must have a contingency in place to replace the Type 26 work. The  Scottish Government has begun to talk in terms of diversification, and the Deputy First Minister has – inevitably –  compared Scotland with Norway. In reality there are three directions in which to diversify.


  1. Convert production to alternative larger vessels: this option is only possible if costbase can be slashed to that of the Far East.
  2. Convert production to medium-sized vessels: this would necessarily be for niche markets, all of which are currently filled by other producers (ferries in Germany, superyachts in the Netherlands, fishing boats in Spain.)
  3. Convert production to small and leisure craft: Scotland is too far from key markets (south of England, Mediterranean etc.) and the existing industry in Scotland is too small to compete with existing players.

As can be seen none of these are promising, and it is difficult to see what the Scottish Government’s contingency might be in the light of the market conditions outlined above. But without one, independence will be the death of shipbuilding on the Clyde.

Note: some of this is informed by my MSc thesis, which examined the small boat sectors in Southeast Hants and the West of Scotland. And both my father and my brother worked in the volume lifeboat industry in Gosport; they lost their jobs in the 1980s.