I’m not sure that last week’s First Ministers Question Time did a lot to reassure Scots the nation is in sound hands.
Labour’s Johann Lamont and Nicola Sturgeon, standing in for Alex Salmond who was in China, turned the indignation meter up to 11 in a finger-jabbing confrontation my granny would have called a stair-heid rammy. As the leader-in-waiting of the SNP, Sturgeon should learn from Salmond to speak softly and carry a big stick. Her argument was undermined by failing to address the issue directly while accusing others of bullying and blackmail.
People are naturally worried by episodes such as Grangemouth and Govan, where agencies outwith the control of the Scottish Government appear increasingly to drive economic events. At Grangemouth it was Ineos and uncompromising boss Jim Ratcliffe; at Govan it was the Royal Navy’s procurement policies, founded on the principle that Britain does not commission complex warships from foreign yards, for the obvious reason that the MoD doesn’t want its most closely guarded military secrets to be shared with foreign governments, however friendly.
Sturgeon never quite got to grips with this, insisting British ships had been built abroad and there had been collaboration with countries as varied as South Korea and Australia. That may be true for run-of-the-mill vessels, but hi-tech craft like Type 26 frigates are invariably kept in-house. It was natural therefore that this would be Labour’s main line of attack on the Scottish Government last week. They would ask: why should the UK Government, after independence, buy ships from Scotland, a foreign land?
In fact, the answer came from UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond himself when he announced the closure of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding facilities. He could not have given the go-ahead for Govan had he not accepted the possibility that Scotland might become independent. He was asked repeatedly if he would consider cancelling the Type 26 orders after a Yes vote in next year’s referendum and repeatedly he refused even to contemplate it. There is a very obvious reason why.