SCOTTISH things I can’t get proud and patriotic about, number 1000 and something … a new warship factory on the River Clyde.

BAE Systems announced the £300 million investment in Govan this week (as well as an “applied shipbuilding academy” in Scotstoun).

The company has record order books, due to the – cough – “elevated threat environment” globally.

READ MORE: BAE Systems new warship factory given the green light in Glasgow

A small confession. In the London part of my life, I sometimes come down the brutalist escalators at Westminster tube station (leaving a desultory and placarded scene, usually). Across and above these descending steps, there’s a giant single-image billboard – and more than a few times, it’s had a Top-Gun-like BAE advert, plonked right in the eye line of wearily home-bound politicians and civil servants. Down somewhere at my waistline (so as to evade a security pile-on), I cannot help but always give it the finger.

Childish, I know. But I have retained a massive and life-long fury at what Dwight D Eisenhower once called the “military-industrial complex” – the mutual interest between war, its threat and reality, and corporate profits. Not to mention the serious misuse of human ingenuity it involves.

This is no doubt difficult and annoying to point out, at a time when the invaded Ukrainians are compelling Western citizens to consider a new era of territorial war in Europe as well as a military drumbeat starting up around China’s claims to Taiwan. But I insist on my (arguably utopian) right to always consider whether swords can be reforged into ploughshares. And whether full Scottish democratic sovereignty can be the forging power.

The National: In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during the video conference of the leaders of the Group of Seven and Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Even in a devolved situation, where the UK retains the power to grant licenses to sell military products, the Scottish Government has a patchy record here – despite noble proclamations.

In his famous 1961 speech, Eisenhower urged that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

If you want to be one of those citizens, then I suggest that you visit the investigative news website The Ferret, and explore their articles on the arms trade.

For example, there’s an official line from the Scottish Government on Scottish Enterprise’s investment in Scotland-based military manufacturers (such as Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon and others). Which is that these funds support the “diversification” of their military expertise into “civilian” products.

But in 2020, it was revealed that a Leonardo product designed in Edinburgh – Osprey 30, a radar system for Norwegian search and rescue – was being used in two military helicopters, and was being marketed around the world at arms fairs. Scottish taxpayers have also funded the radar’s use in a missile-bearing drone. And did you, dear reader, want to be paying public grants of £7m to Leonardo, £1.6m to BAE, £175,000 to Lockheed Martin and £1.759m to Rolls-Royce (which they at least paid back) while these companies were selling super-powerful aircraft and munitions to a marauding Israeli army?

War crimes in Yemen also link back to Scottish manufacturing. Fragments of the Saudi regime’s missiles and radar systems, discovered in the aftermath of the murderous civilian bombing at Sana’a and Al Hudaydah, have been verifiably traced back to Raytheon’s weapons factories and contractors in Glenrothes and Kelso (Raytheon was given around £100,000 by Scottish Enterprise between 2016 and 2020.)

At the very least, in these cases, our Scottish legislators’ due diligence around not funding the production of arms is failing – both being deliberately flouted on one side, and a blind eye is turned on the other.

Though maybe not so blind. In researching this, I discovered some startling quotes from Alyn Smith MSP in a 2021 article, in the Scottish foreign affairs blog Political Courant.

“We recognise that we need an arms industry because that’s high-end engineering; it’s precision software and all the stuff that’s important for the Scottish economy and will remain so”, begins Smith.

“Yes, of course, there’s a paradox. But every country deals with that. Either you take a principled decision that ‘We are not going to have any arms sector engagement at all’ and you need to justify how many tens of thousands of high-end engineering jobs we’re losing, or you need to find a way to make it work.”

The National: The Yes EU rally at Edinburgh's Mound saturday which saw speakers Gordon McIntyre-Kemo, Sar Sheridan and Alyn Smith MP take to the mic.Alyn Smith MP
 Pic Gordon Terris Herald & Times

Smith (above) continues: “There would be an awful lot less research in Scottish universities if the arms sector wasn’t engaged in Scotland.

“That makes some people uncomfortable – I appreciate and respect that – but the SNP is an aspiring independent state, not an aspiring Campaign Against Arms Trade or Amnesty International.”

Well, that’s as realpolitik as it gets. Is that the independent Scottish state you thought you were aspiring to?

I’ve no doubt Putin’s invasion will be used by Smith to bolster his case for a self-confident and explicit military-industrial complex in Scotland.

We’ll hear much talk of how Scots as “good member-state Europeans” should be contributing their 3% of GDP to military expenditure, as a consequence of Nato membership.

To be fair, Smith did support measures to tighten up the UK’s arms licensing standards, given its egregious arms trading with the Saudi and other regimes.

But that still presumes regulation of private military corporations, which – as The Ferret’s archives show – will do just about anything to sell arms to just about anyone.

READ MORE: MPs ask why HMS Prince of Wales warship 'keeps breaking down'

Tickling the underbelly of massively profitable defence corporations with public funds, to help them (maybe, possibly) secularise their weapons expertise, seems a pathetic way to address the core moral question: How can a smart country not make destructive things?

We know the answer to that at the level of weapons of mass destruction – the safe but speedy removal of Trident still seems to be the third rail of independence politics (touch it and you get frazzled).

But how do we address the Smith point – that our supply of high-end engineering skills depends on war and defence as a motivating agenda?

Because, in recent memory, we have an example of that not being the case. Take their engineering response to the Covid epidemic.

As Emma Cockburn, Scotland co-ordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, notes in the Courant piece: “We had massive arms companies, like Boeing and Babcock, make deals with the UK Government to produce ventilators for the NHS. What we saw, literally overnight, was arms companies diversify their production lines to move from creating weapons or engines to making ventilators.” Cockburn continues: “So we’ve seen something happen overnight that we’ve been told for decades was just not possible.

“With the tiniest bit of government intervention, I can only imagine what it would be like if we managed to force hands into actively training those workers and getting those production lines to change.”

“Because we do not want those jobs to disappear”, she concludes. “We want them to change towards building a society that doesn’t contribute or profit from death and destruction.”

So the challenge is imaginative as much as it is pragmatic – that oppressive and depressing status quo (or worse) of Smith and co.

This is a world pressing upon us upheavals from climate worsening, all kinds of radical automation, migration pressures and health pathologies of the body and mind.

Is war-enabling really the best use of around 10,000 defence workers and the £1.9bn they bring to the Scottish economy?

Are these the kinds of systems and objects we want to contribute to a planet that hardly needs more destabilisation? Can’t we still try to see a new “warship factory” as an abomination, and even begin to imagine what a “peaceship factory” would make?

More questions than answers (please do provide). But I still reserve my right to flip BAE Systems one, as and when appropriate.