The chief executive of defence giant Babcock has said the company could move its huge fabrication yard facilities from Rosyth to England within a few years if it was made to feel unwelcome in an independent Scotland.
David Lockwood told us a Yes vote in a second referendum on the nation’s future would be “manageable” for the firm.
But he believes the tone of the constitutional debate in Scotland has already been putting off investors from south of the border.
Thousands of jobs have been supported in recent years at the 300-acre facility at Rosyth.
Britain’s largest warships, the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, were built at the site, and Babcock recently announced plans to recruit 500 more workers for its Type 31 frigate programme.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the Royal Navy’s Type 31s as an “amazing demonstration of Scottish shipbuilding prowess”, as he toured the Rosyth yard on Monday alongside Mr Lockwood.
In an exclusive interview with us, the Conservative leader added: “Just thinking about it from a Union point of view, you see Scotland integral to the UK Government’s overall posture – our ability to be global and to be committed to the defence of freedom around the world.”
The prime minister also hinted that Rosyth could be on track to win freeport status.
Shortly after Mr Johnson’s visit, Mr Lockwood spoke about the importance of “political stability” in a long-term business.
He said it was “really encouraging” that the Scottish and UK governments had been able to reach a deal this week to pave the way for two green freeports in Scotland, after months of wrangling between the administrations.
Asked about a second independence referendum, the Babcock boss said: “I lived in Scotland for 10 years and it was a rumbling thing then and I think it’s just going to be a rumbling thing.
“I think in reality there will be plenty of warning if the vote were in favour of independence.
“There would then be a negotiation period and at the end of the negotiation period there would be an implementation period.
“So I don’t think there is anything that we can’t manage as a company.
“When you look at the timelines, there’s nothing we can’t manage as a company.”
‘We can replicate this in three years’
He added: “If we had to replicate this in England because we were told we weren’t welcome here – which I think would be a bad mistake for Scotland – but if that were the decision, we can replicate this in three years, and the time window of negotiations is longer than that.
“It’s not ideal but it is manageable.”
Mr Lockwood, who succeeded Archie Bethel as chief executive officer of Babcock International Group in 2020, said the relentless battle over Scotland’s constitutional future was having an impact on decision-making in boardrooms south of the border.
“As someone who lived here 10 years and loves the place, I do think there are signs it can affect, the tone of debate, inward investment from England to Scotland and other areas,” he said.
“I think if you are already here it is manageable. But I think it is a slightly different question if you weren’t here, does it affect your decision?
“I am aware of people who are… it is a question they ask when they are making a decision where to base themselves.”
‘Clear democratic mandate’
An SNP spokesman said: “The people of Scotland delivered a clear democratic mandate to the Scottish Government to hold a referendum on independence within the first half of this parliament, Covid permitting, and that is what we are committed to doing.
“Scotland is already one of the most attractive places in the world to do business, and the evidence clearly shows that Scotland has the talent and ambition to build a prosperous economy, drive economic recovery and raise competitiveness.”
Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “If Scotland chose to leave the UK, we would be choosing to no longer being eligible for contracts where national security is a factor, such as warships.
“Therefore it would be inevitable that large shipbuilding companies would have to relocate.
“And it should be remembered that the SNP wanted Scotland to leave the UK a mere 18 months after the referendum vote.
“Thankfully we voted to remain in the UK.”