Commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde has a long and proud history. With skills and expertise envied the world over, it was a cornerstone of the Scottish and UK economy for a very long time.
There’s no doubt that the shape and scale of manufacturing has changed in recent years, but Scotland still has an industry to be proud of and it is essential that we do all we can to support it and enable it to reach its full potential.
Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow is an integral part of our shipbuilding industry and it is central to future success.
The yard was saved from closure in 2014 and its new owners worked hard to try to turn it around. But it has been a difficult journey. Over the past two years, the Scottish Government has been involved in protracted and complex discussions in an effort to find a viable commercial solution to guarantee the future of the yard. We see this as a priority not only because of the significance of shipbuilding to Scotland, but also because Fergusons has the contracts for the design and build of two ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network – these new ferries are absolutely essential to the lives, livelihoods and sustainability of our island communities.
Unfortunately despite work on these contracts and the provision of loans to support diversification of the yard’s activities, difficulties have continued and just over a week ago the owners of Ferguson Marine started the process of putting the business into administration. This is a move that I know the owners regretted and didn’t take lightly.
For the Scottish Government at that stage to sit back and allow a process of administration to simply run its course would have meant risking the loss of hundreds of jobs and jeopardising the completion of the ferries that are so badly needed by our island communities. Not surprisingly, that is something the Scottish Government was not prepared to do.
Whilst a number of options were explored, on Friday we confirmed that we had reached an agreement to take the shipyard into public control – this turned out to be the only viable option to save jobs and ensure that work on the ferries could continue. Derek Mackay, the Economy Secretary, visited the hard on Friday to talk to workers there and give them some much needed reassurance about the immediate future.
Our commitment to public control means that the jobs are secured and the ferries can be completed – supporting both workers on the Clyde and people living on our islands.
It is important to stress that the steps taken last week are not a magic wand. The yard still faces challenges and a great deal of work will need to be done to secure its long term future. But we believe that it can have a bright future and now all efforts will be focussed on working to achieve that.
As our actions last week demonstrate, the SNP Government is prepared to do all we can to support jobs and industry in Scotland. However, no matter the sector, it is true to say that businesses now face great uncertainty and unprecedented risk as we career towards a no-deal Brexit.
After my meeting with Boris Johnson a few weeks ago it became clear that, far from working to prevent such economic devastation, he and his right-wing Tory Government are actively accelerating the country towards it.
This UK Government and Prime Minister, much like the previous incumbents, are recklessly obsessed with internal party politics and the future of their own jobs at the expense of the economies of Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the jobs of hardworking people across these isles.
There is no way to leave the EU without damaging the economy and losing jobs, but leaving without a deal would be utterly catastrophic.
With the Tories in disarray, it is up to opposition parties to stop this calamity before it’s too late.
The SNP has been working tirelessly to prevent a no-deal Brexit and ever since the EU referendum result, we have been prepared to reach across the political divide.
When Jeremy Corbyn last week put forward a proposal which, in his view is the best way forward, I reiterated the SNP’s commitment to conversations and joint-working on all options, as did the Greens and Plaid Cymru.
Given the rhetoric of the Liberal Democrats on Brexit, it was disappointing to see Jo Swinson so quick to rule out options for apparently party political reasons – I hope she will rethink and work with others who realise the importance of blocking a no deal Brexit.
Ian Blackford has already held initial talks across parties, and the SNP will continue to explore all options to find a way forward. This weekend, we have backed calls for Parliament to be reconvened.
Such is the seriousness of the situation facing the country, no solution should be ruled out – all options must be explored, and the SNP will be standing up for Scotland all the way.