Friday, August 05, 2005

For the love of Europe

The Scottish National Party is spitting with rage at the recent decision by the Scottish Executive to award a contract for a fisheries protection vessel to the Polish Remontowa shipyard, in preference to a bid from Port Glasgow's Ferguson yard. The Executive claims that the EU's procurement directive forced it to look outside Scotland and take the cheapest bid.

Complaining of "betrayal", SNP depute leader Nicola Sturgeon has rounded on the First Minister, declaring that: "It is an absolute disgrace that a Scottish company now faces closure due to Jack McConnell's indifference… This tendering process has been a shambles from the start and now the workers at Ferguson's and their families will suffer as a direct result of the First Minister's failure to protect Scottish interests."

What this stupid, dismal excuse for a politician (Sturgeon, this is) doesn't seem to realise is that the situation is one largely of her own party's making, a combination of its blind pursuit of Scottish devolution and its love of the European Union.

If she looked over the border, she would realise that the Royal Navy has just procured three brand new fisheries protection vessels, which were ordered from the Vosper Thornycroft shipyard in Southampton without any problems.

The difference is that, waters off England and Wales are patrolled by the Royal Navy on behalf of Defra, but the vessels used are classified as "offshore patrol vessels" and are therefore tasked for defence duties in addition to fisheries protection. As such, they are exempt (for the time being) from the procurement directive, and the MoD was free to purchase from British yards without opening up the procurement competition to European ship builders.

However, since devolution, fisheries protection in Scottish waters has been transferred to the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency. As a civilian agency, this is entirely independent of the Royal Navy and has no defence tasks. As such, its purchases are subject to EU procurement rules and, when the agency needed another vessel, the Scottish Executive had no choice but to put the tender out to European bidders.

Additionally, though, the Executive has awarded the Remontowa yard a contract to build the a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, which will ply between the Scottish islands, and that would not under any circumstances have been exempt from the procurement directive.

Either way, the SNP has been caught out. In its enthusiasm for an "Independent Scotland in Europe", it has lost out both ways. Now, as Scottish ship workers are consigned to the dole, it doesn't even seem to realise that its own policies have helped to bring this situation about.

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