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BAE Systems job losses: The politics explained

800 jobs will be lost at BAE Systems across Scotland Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Job losses in the shipbuilding industry are a blow to the workers and their families.

BAE Systems has finally announced the details of the grim news for workers north and south of the Border.

More than 900 posts are to go in Portsmouth and more than 800 in the yards at Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth in Scotland - and some at Filton near Bristol.

This is huge blow to the workers concerned but the publicity these job losses have attracted is enormous. Why?

The answer is politics, and specifically constitutional politics in the run up to Scotland's independence referendum next year.

It has been suggested that BAE, under the influence of the UK government, is cutting fewer posts in Scotland ahead of the referendum so as not to give the SNP a cause celebre ahead of the vote.

This will not be much comfort to those in Scotland who will lose their jobs but the hand of the UK government, which through the MoD gives these yards work, seems to have been present.

However, the SNP-controlled Holyrood government will also have been lobbying hard. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is, after all, the MSP for the constituency which includes Govan.

Ms Sturgeon says that the loss of 800 jobs is "devastating" for the Scottish economy.

It is certainly a severe blow.

But, according to House of Commons research, Rosyth employs 1,000 people and Govan and Scotstoun some 2,800.

Compared to, say, the numbers employed in other industries these are relatively small numbers - it is estimated that 200,000 people are employed in tourism-related businesses for example.

Related to the politics, the reason this is such a big issue is that shipbuilding plays such a big part in Scotland's sense of itself.

Along with steel-making, which no longer happens on a large scale, and fishing, there is history and a certain romance attached to shipbuilding.

It still conjures up an image of hard men working in a hard industry, of Red Clydeside, and of Scotland's tradition of radical politics and heavy industries

And then there is the constitutional politics on top of that. The UK coalition, and Labour, say of Scotland votes for independence the Scottish yards would not get the remaining MoD work - mainly the Type 26 combat ship.

Ms Sturgeon says this is "preposterous". According to the SNP the work - such as it is - would continue after independence.

There is no modern parallel for this situation, so this is an argument in which there is no definitive answer.

However, were Scotland to become independent and the rest of the UK voted the Tories into power - two assumptions - it is reasonable to assume the Scots yards would have far fewer political allies.

More immediately, though, the big issue is what will happen to those who lose their jobs. How can governments, north and south of the Border, help them find new work.

In that context, issues of the constitution may seem to be of secondary importance. They won't, however, go away.