Tuesday 30 October 2012

Defence Jobs - at what Price?

The UK Defence Minister, Philip Hammond was up in Scotland recently to visit the Faslane base for the UK's so-called independent nuclear weapons.  During this visit he confirmed that the current UK government is determined to commission an upgraded replacement for the Trident nuclear weapon system.  As part of this he announced a £305 investment on designing the new boats to host the weapons.  All this before the government's own review has concluded.  So much for open government UK style!

A key plank of Hammond's defence of renewing Trident is that it will provide secure jobs for thousand of people in the Clyde estuary.  Claims of up to 12,000 jobs are bandied about by the government and the clear message is that these jobs would go if we vote for independence.  This of course is all rubbish.  In the first place if Scotland does become independent, then we will still have a navy, army and air force.  Just how big they will be and the precise configuration of these forces will of course be a matter for us, the electorate in Scotland.  The first question to ask of a defence policy should be - against whom do we need to defend ourselves?  Only then can we make appropriate decisions about what kind of navy, army and air force we need.  As a relatively small north west European country with (hopefully) no dreams of invading other countries, we could get by with a much smaller defence spending that at present.  Even with a smaller defence spending there will still be plenty of jobs in the defence sector in an independent Scotland.

Secondly, spending on defence is about the most wasteful kind of public spending you can get.  It is outrageously expensive and in terms of job creation about as cost effective as space exploration.  Every study has shown that defence spending creates less jobs than just about any other spending.  Less money on trident means more money and more jobs for teachers, nurses, social workers, police etc.  Jobs that are more likely to make a positive difference to more people than Trident related jobs.  So for the same amount of public spending we can have more jobs in Scotland than the 12,000 that Philip Hammond like to crow about.

Thirdly it is interesting to note that the morality or ethics of this kind of job creation is conspicuous by its absence in the world of Philip Hammond and his ilk.  This is perhaps not surprising from a Tory, but still it is a shame that Labour in Scotland is too willing to parrot this line.  Jackie Ballie for one is keen to avoid talking about the ethics of nuclear weapons and will only talk about the jobs provided.  Strange behaviour for a so-called party of the left and an self-proclaimed internationalist one at that.  One wonders if the Jackie Ballies and Philip Hammonds of this world would have put up the same defence for concentration camps - they provided jobs and a boost to the local economy.  Think of all those train journeys needed to get people to the camps.  Must have been a wonderful job creation enterprise.

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