NICOLA Sturgeon insisted yesterday it would be “unconscionable” for the UK Government to go back on its promise to build vital Royal Navy vessels on the Clyde.

The First Minister spoke out as she met unions at the BAE Systems yards in Govan and Scotstoun to hear their concerns regarding the order to build new Type 26 frigates.

Senior ministers continued to deny any changes to the crucial shipbuilding programme as unions vowed to use “everything in their armoury” to fight job losses.

Sturgeon said it would be a “complete betrayal of these yards” if the order was scaled back or delayed, as she met with shop stewards at a key meeting over fears that alterations to a major naval ship order could lead to the loss of 800 Scottish jobs.

Speaking outside the Govan yard, Sturgeon said: “Promises were made about orders to these yards and promises were made about jobs at these yards, and I think it is absolutely vital now these contracts are delivered.

“These yards have been through some really difficult times with a reduction in the workforce, and they thought that that was all part of the process of getting themselves into shape for the Type 26 and securing a level of employment here.

“If there is anything happening that puts that at risk, I think that is unacceptable, so I want to listen directly to the unions about the concerns they have and then I will, as necessary. raise these with the UK Government.

“I think it would be unconscionable for the UK Government to go back on the promises that were made to these yards.”

When asked if that would be considered a material change in circumstances from 2014 – one of the criteria the SNP says needs to be met before another vote on independence can take place – she stated: “This is about jobs and securing jobs in an industry. It would be a complete betrayal of these yards if there was any U-turn or going back on on promises made. That’s why it’s really important we make sure that doesn’t happen, and the first step in that is to hear directly from the unions, to understand what is making them so concerned.”

Workers at BAE Systems were gearing up to build eight Type-26 frigates and two offshore patrol vessels following a pledge made by the UK Government. But last week officials learned revised plans could see the build pushed back and up to 20 per cent of the work outsourced to yards in England as part of cost-cutting measures. Yesterday Scotland Secretary David Mundell and Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne insisted there were no changes to the plan laid out last autumn.

However, following its meeting with Sturgeon, the UK’s largest union insisted job fears were justified as it pressed forward with a campaign against the cuts.

Unite says almost half of the 2,000-strong workforce could be lost at the Scotstoun and Govan yards on the River Clyde and is urging defence ministers to “stick to their promises”.

National officer Ian Waddell said: “Our stewards are clear in their determination to make sure the UK Government keeps its promise and will use everything in their armoury to defend the UK’s historic ability to design and build its own warships.

“Defence ministers in Westminster should not underestimate their anger or the feeling of betrayal which has resulted from the government’s backtracking and BAE’s review.”

The frigate order has already been reduced from 13 vessels and the revised number will be completed over a longer timeframe. Unite blames the scheduled change on a decision to divert £750 million to other defence projects.

Stewards will consult members on the next steps of a campaign in the coming days, including those on secondment to Rosyth for the construction of new aircraft carriers.

Discussing the action, Unite’s Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty compared the situation to that faced by the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in the 1970s, when union leader Jimmy Reid headed a work-in after the Tory Government of the day refused a lifeline £6m loan. The protest demonstrated the workers’ commitment and forged strong support from the public and politicians.

Rafferty said: “Ministers would do well to remember the upper Clyde shipbuilders in the 1970s and the strong tradition of the Clyde’s workforce in standing up for their jobs and livelihoods. The UK government needs to keep its promises and BAE needs to hold its nerve.”

Before the referendum, shipyard workers were told leaving the Union would lead to mass redundancies and only a No vote could save their jobs.

The GMB union has accused Westminster of lying to its members.

Following yesterday’s meeting in Govan, Sturgeon wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron, saying: “The BAE yards on the Clyde require a cast-iron commitment from your government that you will deliver the contracts as promised.”

The Govan yard made up part of Sturgeon’s own constituency before lines were redrawn, and she told The National: “The yards are world-class with a world-beating workforce.

“I have been in and out of these shipyards for many years. I got to know many of the workforce. Govan shipyard in particular will always have a special place in my heart.”

Meanwhile, answering urgent questions on Clyde shipbuilding in the House of Commons, Dunne said “nothing has changed” and that officials were working with BAE Systems to “develop an optimised schedule” for construction.

In a statement borrowing heavily from that issued by the Ministry of Defence on Friday, Mundell said: “The UK Government is absolutely committed to shipbuilding on the Clyde, and to the Type-26 programme, which is a very significant investment. Over the next decade we will spend around £8 billion on Royal Navy warships.

“We will also build two new offshore patrol vessels on the Clyde, maintaining Scottish shipbuilding capability ahead of the start of the Type 26 build.

"There will continue to be shipbuilding jobs on Clydeside for years to come, and that is only because Scotland is part of the UK.”

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