Linda Pearson: If the Scottish Government are serious about defence diversification they have to prove it

Writer and activist Linda Pearson analyses the ways in which the arms industry takes advantage of Scottish Government support to further its ends, and says that if defence diversification is more than a soundbite the First Minister must detail a plan for how she is going to implement such a strategy

THE Scottish Government’s support for the arms industry has come under renewed scrutiny. 

CommonSpace’s revelation today follows research by the Scottish Greens showing that Scottish Enterprise has provided missile manufacturer, Raytheon, with bespoke account management services for the last 10 years. According to Greens MSP Ross Greer, Scottish Enterprise has helped Raytheon to access funding, advertise its products and expand into new markets.

Other investigations have shown that Scotland’s enterprise agencies have awarded grants worth more than £20 million to major arms companies operating in Scotland over the last decade, despite evidence linking their products to human rights abuses and alleged war crimes overseas.

Greens co-convenor, Patrick Harvie MSP, challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the support given Raytheon and to the industry as a whole at First Minister’s questions on 31 January. In her response, Sturgeon stuck to the standard line that the Scottish Government “cannot and will not provide support for weapons or ammunition or munitions in general”. 

READ MORE: Revealed: Minutes show no evidence @ScotGov agencies prioritise defence diversification in support for arms companies

“Any support that we give to companies such as Raytheon is focused on projects for non-military uses and for business diversification”, Sturgeon said.

There is some evidence to show that Scottish Government agencies have assisted arms companies with non-military projects. For example, a briefing written for Paul Wheelhouse,Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, in advance of a meeting with Raytheon in January 2018 mentions Scottish Enterprise’s support for a commercial aviation research and development project.

However, the Scottish Government has not made a serious policy commitment to defence diversification, which would mean planning and implementing a transition away from military to non-military production. The examples of support for non-military activities that have emerged must be seen in the context of the government’s overall support for growth of the defence sector.

ADMS industrial strategy

The Scottish government believes that the Scottish arms industry plays “a crucial role in keeping all of the people of the United Kingdom safe”, while the aerospace, defence, marine and security (ADMS) manufacturing sector plays an important role in its economic strategy.

The 2016 ADMS industrial strategy states that demand for products that address “the changing face of global threats” represents “potentially huge business opportunities for Scottish companies”. The strategy outlines a plan to “achieve overall real-terms growth of the [ADMS] sector in the range of six to ten percent by 2020” and was enthusiastically backed by former Business, Energy and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing in a foreword to the report.

Like other manufacturing sector strategies, the ADMS industrial strategy was developed by an Industry Leadership Group (IG). ILGS are facilitated by Scottish Enterprise and typically consist of representatives from companies within the sector, trade associations, trade unions and relevant Scottish government agencies.

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The group that developed the current ADMS strategy included representatives of arms giants Thales and Finmeccanica (now Leonardo) and military contractor, Babcock International, along with smaller Scottish companies like MacTaggart Scott. The director of the arms industry’s lobby group, Aerospace, Defence and Security Group (ADS) Scotland, was also a member of the group. 

As Ben Wray and I reported on CommonSpace today, the minutes of the quarterly meetings of the ADMS ILG for the period February 2016 to December 2018 show how Scottish Government agencies are helping the defence sector to implement the ADMS strategy. There is no mention of defence diversification in the three-year period covered by the minutes, which were obtained under freedom of information.

The minutes also reveal the close involvement of ADS, raising questions about the extent the arms lobby’s influence in Scotland. 

Importance of defence “primes”

The ADMS industrial strategy rests upon the presence in Scotland of large companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Fergus Ewing acknowledged this in the foreword to the strategy, saying that it “recognises the long-term value of attracting and retaining large companies to the sector in Scotland and the beneficial effect on smaller businesses throughout the country who are ambitious to supply them”.

The minutes of the ADMS ILG meetings show that Scottish Enterprise is promoting business opportunities within larger companies, such as through the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service's Supply Chain Experts programme. This programme aims to help smaller companies win work in the supply chains of larger companies and both Thales and Leonardo are mentioned as participants.

As Greens MSP Ross Greer says, it is “outrageous” that Scottish Enterprise is providing account management services to Raytheon to help grow its business. However, this level of support is not surprising given the importance placed on defence “primes” in the sector’s industrial strategy. 

Export growth

The UK Government is responsible for issuing arms export licences to UK-based firms and as Patrick Harvie has noted in his question to the First Minister, it has consistently failed to take a human-rights based approach.

The UK Government has continued to authorise arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence that weapons with British-made components have been used in the commission of alleged war crimes in Yemen. In 2014, Raytheon secured a contract reported to be worth £150 million for the sale of Paveway IV missiles to Saudi Arabia. The missiles, which use guidance systems built at Raytheon’s Glenrothes factory, have since been linked to attacks by on civilian infrastructure in Yemen.

SNP MPs have repeatedly called for a ban on arms to Saudi Arabia and SNP policy states that the UK government should “immediately halt all military support and arms sales to regimes suspected of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

READ MORE: SNP anti-war campaigners demand end to Scottish public funding of arms merchants

However, the ADMS industrial strategy identifies “internationalisation” as one of six strategic themes and its stated aim is to increase exports in the ADMS sector “to 70 per cent of turnover” by 2020. This appears to apply as much to the defence sector as it does to the aerospace, marine and security sectors. There is no mention of human rights and international law, only a recommendation that the defence sector be supported to “address the regulatory environment (at home and overseas)”. 

The strategy recommends that the international arm of Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International (SDI), be “encouraged to work with the ILG and sector to take a proactive approach to the development of export and investment opportunities”. SDI offers a range of services to Scottish companies that wish to export their goods, such as help to find export financing and attend trade shows and exhibitions. The agency has previously helped companies based in Scotland to exhibit at the world’s largest arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) and at Farnborough Air Show, which features predominantly military equipment. The minutes show SDI facilitated participation in this, as CommonSpace reported.

Other help to grow defence exports has been provided by Scottish Enterprise. In 2012, Minister Ewing announced that Scottish Enterprise’s Research and Development Grant Scheme would be extended to purely defence-related research and development projects aimed at the export market and grant assistance would be available to companies of all sizes. The policy shift demonstrated the Scottish Government's “continuing commitment to the growth of the defence sector, but also to expanding Scotland's export horizons”, Ewing said. 

READ MORE: Linda Pearson: How arms companies influence the Trident debate

It is evident from other discussions noted in the minutes of ADMS ILG meetings that companies within the sector would like the level of public sector assistance to be increased further. During the discussion about Farnborough Air Show in 2016 it was noted that “Scotland is not competitive with other UK regions at major trade shows. A wider Scottish presence and force would be appreciated by members”. In September 2016 it was agreed that the group “would seek a set of figures reflecting what is offered to industry by the public sector in competing nations”, presumably with a view to increasing the level of support provided in Scotland. 

The minutes from the group’s March 2017 meeting state that the CEO of “[a] major Fife Defence Company CEO articulated to a [Scottish Enterprise] Director the importance to Scotland of more open, evident support of Defence industry from the Scottish Public sector”. The company is not named but is likely to be one of three large arms companies operating in Fife: Raytheon, BAE Systems or Babcock International.

STEM recruits

A key priority for arms companies is ensuring that sufficient numbers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are funnelled into the industry. ADS Scotland has a Skills Working Group which aims to promote “to pupils, students, parents and teachers as well as to government, agencies and the public the need for an increased pipeline of STEM skilled employees” into the sector. The ADMS industrial strategy states that “more Scottish engineering graduates must be attracted and incentivised to enter the ADMS sector”.

As well as bringing in new recruits, involvement in educational initiatives offers weapons producers an opportunity to sanitise their image. Through activities involving children as young as seven, arms companies can present a positive impression of careers within the industry whilst avoiding an examination of its devastating human cost. 

Research by The Ferret shows that Leonardo has made 17 visits to Scottish schools in the last two years and military contractor Babcock has made 67, while Britain’s largest arms company, BAE Systems, has been allowed to teach history lessons in 400 schools across the UK.  In response to criticism that these visits allow companies normalise the arms trade, the Scottish Government said: “We want to see schools and employers working together to enrich learning about Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, and the development of school-employer partnership is a key part of our Developing the Young Workforce strategy.”

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The defence sub-sector also has the “full support” of Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in “advancing the agenda around STEM and skills in particular”, according to the minutes of the June 2017 ADMS ILG meeting. SDS is a non-departmental public body that offers careers guidance to individuals across Scotland and helps employers to meet their recruitment needs. This includes developing apprenticeships schemes in consultation with companies and contributing to the cost of training apprentices.

Several arms companies were consulted on SDS’s framework document for graduate apprenticeships in engineering: design and manufacture and both Leonardo and BAE Systemsfeature as case studies of apprenticeship providers on SDS’s website. 

Italian company Leonardo gets two thirds of its revenue from arms sales and is ranked as the ninth largest arms company in the world. On the SDS website, it is described as “a global leader in laser and radar technologies” that has “introduced a pre-apprenticeship pilot with a local school” and “hosted a visit from HRH Prince Charles and 30 primary schoolgirls as part of ‘National Women in Engineering Day’”. Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the company's role in supplying the weaponry used by Turkish forces in the indiscriminate bombing of Kurdish-controlled Afrin, Syria, in early 2018.

Just transition

The Scottish government’s justification for supporting the arms industry rests in a large part on the belief that it is an important provider of employment in Scotland. In her response to Patrick Harvie at First Minister’s questions, Nicola Sturgeon said “[t]hese firms support a large number of jobs in Scotland.  I make no apology for our enterprise agencies trying to support our economy and jobs”.

This argument is often invoked by weapons makers to burnish their image and justify high levels of public sector support. Minutes of the ADMS ILG meeting of December 2018 note that the “[d]efence sub-group are attempting to pull together positive case studies in support of the sector, primarily focussing on STEM and economic contribution”. 

READ MORE: 'SNP members deserve better than this': Scottish CND criticise SNP response to UK Govt Defence speech

However, the number of jobs in the arms industry is in long-term decline and numerous studies have shown how skills currently employed in the sector could be transferred to socially useful areas of production, such as the renewable energy industry. For example, a 2015 study by Campaign Against the Arms Trade found that the Clyde region has the potential to become a global leader in wave and tidal stream technologies as most of the skills required already exist within arms and engineering companies in the region.

The Scottish Trades Union Council and Scottish CND have called on the Scottish Government to establish a Defence Diversification Agency which would work with companies, trade unions and local communities to plan and implement a shift away from military production. The agency could also partner with the new Scottish National Investment Bank to secure the long-term, patient capital necessary to develop alternative sources of employment. The government has already committed to applying the Just Transition principles in its efforts to create a low carbon economy and these could be adapted for a defence diversification strategy.  

It’s imperative that the Scottish Government works to end the harm caused by the Scottish arms industry and the adoption of a defence diversification strategy would direct public sector support towards industries that promote human security, rather than those that undermine it.

Picture courtesy of Hugh Llewelyn

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