The debate over Scottish Independence is coming to a head, with the date for the referendum set at the 18th September 2014. Scottish voters will be asked a very simple yes/no question, but it’s a question with large and complex consequences.
The news has been full of debates over currency, taxes, North Sea oil and the Scottish government’s White Paper, but what would an independent Scotland mean for its shipping industry?
With about 41,000 people directly employed in the shipping industry in Scotland, this is a significant area for consideration. Thousands of shipbuilding jobs at the Govan and Scotstoun BAE shipyards are currently protected by a project to build two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, but these would be lost if Scotland gained their independence. The British government have made it very clear that they would not let their warships be built in a foreign country, and should Scotland separate from the UK, the project will be transferred to Portsmouth.
GMB Scotland, one of Scotland’s largest trade unions and the primary union at the Govan and Scotstoun BAE shipyards, has already announced its support of the ‘no’ campaign against independence. Should this be a warning to the shipping industry in Scotland?
It’s not only the Scottish shipbuilding industry itself that needs to consider the referendum very carefully. Sir Ken MacLeod, president of the UK Chamber of Shipping, has urged the Scottish government to provide more details on how it will support the tax and safety aspects of Scottish shipping.
Investing in the build and maintenance of a ship is an extremely costly process. Companies will not want ships that are built or registered in Scotland to face sudden and significant rises in tax payments. Neither will they want to see lessening standards on safety, especially given Scotland’s vast and dangerous coastline. The Northern Lighthouse Board currently funds the lighthouses, navigational buoys and smaller lights around the Scottish coast for £23m a year. This huge figure is funded by a duty tax paid by every ship going into every UK port, which is then divided proportionately between England, Wales and Scotland. Scottish ports take in only £6m of this sum, so where will Scotland find this extra £17m after potential independence? Will we see some budget cuts elsewhere, or will we see a lowering in safety?
This may be an area that some have overlooked in the independence debate, but it could be a pivotal deciding factor. While the question itself of Scottish independence may be simple, the answer is clearly not.