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Was Anglo-Scottish shipyard battle a fair fight?

BAE systems has axed 1,775 jobs across its naval ships business but kept its Glasgow shipyard open. Photo:

I don't think anyone would argue with the notion that the recent history of the Royal Navy has been one of consistent decline in terms of scale, size and influence.

At the end of the Second World War, we still had 16 battleships, 52 carriers (though most of these were small escort or merchant carriers, according to Wikipedia), 62 cruisers, 257 destroyers, 131 submarines and 9,000 other ships. You could still just about say that Britain ruled the waves.

Even by the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, we had enough ships to make the fleet review in the Solent not too embarrassing. By the Diamond Jubilee all we could manage was a river pageant.

Prouder naval days: The Royal Yacht Britannia passes a Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier during the Silver Jubilee Review of the Fleet in 1977. Credit: PA Archive

So everyone has known for a long time that BAE Systems was not going to have enough capacity to keep two shipyards open. It was a straight competition between Glasgow and Portsmouth and today it was announced Glasgow had won.

But the question is: was it a fair fight? And the true answer is that we are unlikely ever to be really certain. I am adamantly assured by everyone in government and inside BAE Systems that this was a decision made solely on economic logic.

But when this issue was first raised to me by someone inside the company more than a year ago, it was clear that there was only ever going to be one outcome. BAE is close to the Government. Given the nature of its work, it has to be.

Was anyone inside it ever going to propose ending shipbuilding on the Clyde just before the Scottish referendum on independence? Not likely, I would say.

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