The Union gave Scottish Industry its Life and it Will Continue to Give our Economy its Life

The Queen Elizabeth 2 being built on the Clyde in 1967

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In the same week that a giant section of Britain’s second carrier HMS Prince of Wales leaves Glasgow to begin its journey to Rosyth, and the first carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is finally floated on the Firth of Forth (pics below); Alistair McConnachie says that the lesson to be learned from the demise of much of Scottish heavy industry during the latter part of the 20th century is that it was the Union which gave life to it in the first place, and it will be the Union which will continue to give life to our economy in the years ahead.

Updated on 17 July 2014 and posted originally on 19 December 2012.

Above is a picture of the Queen Elizabeth 2 being built on the Clyde in 1967. You can also view a superb collection of pictures of the launch of the QE2 from the shipyard of John Brown & Company at Clydebank, on 20th September 1967, taken by the late Mr William Davies of Glasgow here

The nationalist narrative is largely negative. In short, the Union has been bad for Scotland in the past, it is bad today, and it will be bad in the future.

Part of the historical narrative revolves around the deindustrialisation which occurred in Scotland (and indeed throughout the entire United Kingdom) during the latter part of the 20th century. This is often blamed, simplistically, on "the Tories" or "Margaret Thatcher", with "Ravenscraig" usually getting a mention.

We are meant to conclude that "the Union is bad because Scotland lost much of its heavy industry while it was within the Union."

There are three unspoken, and incorrect, assumptions here.

The first is the assumption that this industry would have existed anyway, even if there had been no Union.

The second is that if Scotland had become independent after this industry had been established, then it would somehow have been able to retain it.

The third is that if Scotland leaves the Union then it will be much easier for a separate Scotland to create and maintain new industry.

Let's examine these 3 incorrect assumptions, based on hindsight, and a degree of foresight.

Incorrect Assumption 1: If Scotland had remained separate, all that industry would have been there anyway
It is an indisputable fact that Scottish heavy industry - coal, steel, locomotives, ships - was built as a direct consequence of Scotland's place within Britain. If it had not been for the Union, we would not have had that industry in the first place. [1]

It was the astonishingly high levels of physical enterprise generated by the British at home and abroad, which needed the coal to be dug, the steel to be forged, and the locomotives and ships to be built. Scotland could not have managed this on its own. Arguably, neither could have England.

The heavy industry, which developed in Scotland, did so as a direct consequence of the shared endeavour which was made possible by the Union. And it was the Union which generated the market for the industrial products both throughout the UK and worldwide. [2]

The actions of the British at home and abroad - and which contributed to Scotland's economic and industrial past - were only possible because we were all in it together.

It is a fair assumption, based on the hindsight we enjoy today, that if Scotland had not joined in Union with England then we would never have had such heavy industry in the first place!

Incorrect Assumption 2: A separate Scotland would have been able to retain its industry
Suppose Scotland had become independent in the 1970s, while some of this industry was still in place. The nationalists will say that an independent Scotland could have somehow saved those industries...but that is almost certainly wrong.

If there had been an independent Scotland, those industries would still have been subject to exactly the same global market pressures as they were within the rest of Britain at that time.

This would have been the case unless, somehow, Scotland had protected its industry with tariffs - which might have been impractical within the context of the remainder of the United Kingdom (presuming they were even legal internationally) - and public subsidies (the cost of which Scotland would likely have struggled to raise).

Even then, the political and logistical challenges of trying to continue to trade with the rest of the world - weak international representation on the world stage, no Royal Navy to safeguard sea lanes in the face of the then communist threat, and so on - would have presented insurmountable problems.

Incorrect Assumption 3: Scotland has a better economic future outside of the Union
Consider the only 3 possible ways that Scotland might be able to develop its economy outside of the rest of the UK's economy.

The only 3 ways it could in future, possibly, forge a new industrial path for itself outside of the remainder of the UK's economy, would be firstly if an independent Scotland had tariffs and public subsidies for protected industries. That would also require exempting itself from all the modern global laws and trading arrangements which we have today, including the EU. Even then, it is arguable whether this approach would actually improve matters, or if it is even feasible within an economy which will still be closely tied to the remainder of the UK, which might itself be promoting a different policy.

If we do not have tariffs and subsidies in place then the second possibility is to have an extremely entrepreneurial, low-tax approach throughout the Scottish economy. This, however, is the exact opposite of the approach favoured by most of the promoters of Scottish nationalism, who tend to be left of centre, high-tax advocates.

Thirdly, a combination of the best of both of the above, might be possible. However, given the inevitable and systemic links between the Scottish economy and the economy of what would be the remainder of the UK, the real question is whether any of these options are at all possible or practical for Scotland to be doing on its own.

And if any of these options work, then we should be doing them in partnership with the rest of the UK. If there is a right way to be doing it, then we should all be doing it together!

Lower Block 3 of HMS Prince of Wales leaves its shed at Govan for transportation to Rosyth, weekend 12/13 July 2014

It's not About what we Lost in the Past. It's About what we Will Gain and Contribute in the Future
We should learn from the economic circumstances which led to the passing of much of Scottish heavy industry, and we should draw the correct conclusions for the future.

An obvious conclusion is that the best way to generate Scottish economic activity is to do it on the back of the wider UK economy of which we are part, and upon which we depend.

Scotland will not be able to either reindustrialise (to the extent that may be possible), or generate a more vibrate economy on its own, while standing apart from England. We will need the engine of the much larger English economy, behind us.

HMS Queen Elizabeth floated at Rosyth 17-7-14

That is just common sense and it is how our heavy industry developed in the first place. The Union birthed our heavy industry and gave life to it. The Union was (and is) both its progenitor and its life blood.

For example, above is a photo of a giant section of Britain’s second aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales leaving its building shed in Govan to begin its journey to Rosyth on the weekend of 12/13 July 2014; and here is the first carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth being floated at Rosyth on 17 July 2014. (Photos courtesy of The creation of these great ships is only possible within the Union. They are truly British endeavours.

Certainly, some might argue that it was the Union which killed much of heavy industry in Scotland in the latter years of the 20th century - but it does not make any sense to blame the Union when it was the Union which gave life to it in the first place.

Rather than concentrating on what Scotland lost as part of Britain, or pretending that if Scotland had been "independent" things would somehow have worked out differently - rather than doing any of that, let us concentrate on the great things Scotland will gain and the great things Scotland will contribute by continuing to be part of Britain.

The Union gave life to Scottish industry in the past, and it is the Union which will give even greater life to our economy in the future. Scotland's bright economic future will be found within a united Britain. [3]

[1] Since the first shipyard on the Clyde in 1712, over 25,000 ships have been built on the Clyde, with a total of 481 warships built on the Clyde between 1914-1918 alone.

[2] The North British Locomotive Company, of Springburn, Glasgow was formed in 1903 and became the largest locomotive manufacturer in Europe, producing at its peak an average of 447 locomotives a year, many of which were shipped to the Colonies. By the time of its demise in 1963, it had built over 28,000 locomotives.

[3] We are very grateful to have received the following information from an American reader, Wesley L P Hutchins who writes to say:

I can't speak to the other industries and services, but I can talk about shipbuilding, because it was British ships and shipbuilding that got me interested in Britain in the first place.

There are lots of reasons why British shipbuilding collapsed. Most of them have to do with global economic forces that were out of Westminster's (or anybody's) control.

Reasons include bad management, poor planning, labor costs, government policy, competition from foreign yards, and other things.

But I believe the killer blow was the collapse of the traditional liner market, meaning passenger vessels built primarily for the transatlantic run as well as throughout the Empire/Commonwealth (especially with regard to British immigration to Australia and New Zealand).

By the early 60s, most people were crossing the Atlantic and traveling to other places by air rather than by sea. For many shipyards, ocean liners built for Cunard, White Star, P&O, and other lines were their bread-and-butter, and losing them meant losing a significant part of their business.

One by one, the great British shipyards, from Harland & Wolff in Belfast and John Brown's in Clydebank to Swan Hunter at Tyneside and Cammell Laird at Merseyside, were forced to either become shells of their former selves or shut down altogether, and this has been a tragedy.

So the decline in shipbuilding had many factors which cannot be laid entirely at Westminster's feet, unless you wanted government to continue pumping loads of taxpayer's money into yards that were no longer competitive and no longer making a profit.

By the time the cruise liner market took off in the 1980s, British shipyards had largely lost the skills and know-how needed for building such ships, and we ended up in the situation we have today.

I would love to see a revival in British shipbuilding, and it could have happened with the Queen Mary 2 when Harland & Wolff had placed a bid for her construction. However, the contract went to the French, and I know many were upset about that, including myself; for a British ship of that magnitude - representing the British Merchant Navy and flying the Red Duster - ought to have been built in the United Kingdom.

I believe Britain can start building ships in bigger quantities again, but it can only happen with a convergence of public and private efforts and with the UK remaining together.

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