Devonport: Naval battle that could sink a community: Britain's last two major dockyards, once part of a proud network, are locked in a life-or-death struggle for the contract to refit submarines

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'WHAT THE Scots are doing is diabolical,' said Bill Goffin, district officer for the AEEU engineering union in Plymouth. 'They have Government ministers, the Opposition front bench and the trade union leaders . . . and are using them all to stop Trident coming here.'

Mr Goffin, whose fight to ensure that Devonport naval dockyard has a future has earned him the nickname 'the pocket battleship', has been reprimanded by his union's leadership. They said his strong language about the Scottish lobby's attempts to make sure Rosyth wins the multi-billion pound contract to service and refit Trident nuclear submarines went too far.

But he refused to shut up. Like everyone else in Plymouth, he believes Scottish political muscle is being taken more seriously than Devonport's claim that both the Treasury and Ministry of Defence Navy Board have recognised its bid would save the taxpayer pounds 400m by the end of the decade.

Only Scottish influence, they say, can explain the refusal by Malcolm Rifkind, the (Scottish) Secretary of State for Defence, to give the contract to Devonport and extend the year-long analysis of the rival proposals, giving Rosyth time to change its tender document.

Suspicions about the delay - which has allowed Rosyth to allegedly 'steal' Devonport's low cost plan to service Trident in existing dry docks - have produced a curious linguistic shift. The alienated language, so often heard from Scotland, is now being picked up in Plymouth.

'You scratch a Scotsman and the whole nation bleeds,' said Mr Goffin. 'I see it in the national trade union leaderships, which are dominated by Scots. They pretend to be even-handed, but want to move the goalposts and make sure Rosyth gets Trident.'

Plymouth academics and political leaders echo his grievances. They mutter about neo-colonialism and say that English regions, not Scotland and Wales, are suffering at the hands of a political establishment excessively influenced by Scottish concerns.

Peter Gripaios, Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Plymouth, points out that virtually all Scotland's 72 MPs supported the Rosyth bid, regardless of party allegiances. With a seat in the Cabinet, and the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, there was more than enough institutional strength to defend regional interests.

By contrast, Plymouth has three backbench MPs and a city council stripped of meaningful power in the 1974 local government reorganisation.

'The City does not have a strong pressure group fighting for it,' says Professor Gripaios. 'The rest of Devon and Cornwall tend to regard the docks as a Plymouth issue. They do not realise how important the docks are to the regional economy.'

The dockyards are three miles wide, cover 300 acres and dominate Plymouth. The city would not exist if it was not for the Navy. Despite attempts since the Second World War to diversify, its economy remains dependent on military work.

A study by Dr Paul Bishop, of the University of Plymouth, found that the dockyard and naval complex supported 30,000 jobs, generated pounds 520m a year and gave orders to 600 local firms. In Plymouth, 20 per cent of the workforce was dependent on the dockyard and Navy and 30 per cent of all local income came from military spending.

The University of Plymouth has said that even if the rundown was confined to a 50 per cent cut in the dockyard workforce and a 25 per cent reduction in military personnel, Plymouth would lose pounds 163m a year and 9,250 jobs.

No one believes such cutbacks could go through without dramatic social stresses. There are already 19,600 unemployed in Plymouth - 13 per cent of the workforce. In inner-city wards, unemployment has reached almost 30 per cent and homelessness, drug abuse and crime have grown with it.

If there is one thing that annoys people in Plymouth more than the influence of the Scots in Whitehall, it is the widely-held view that the city lies in a rich southern land of quaint villages, cottage cream and tourist traps.

Rosyth has Edinburgh across the Firth of Clyde to support it and is connected to the industrial belt of central Scotland. But Plymouth, which has seen the Devonport workforce cut from 15,000 to 5,000 since 1985, has discovered there is no hinterland to look to. To the north is the wilderness of Dartmoor; to the west is Cornwall, depressed by the decline in agriculture and tourism. The nearest centre of economic activity is Bristol, 118 miles away.

A study of the effects of the 1980s defence cuts on Plymouth showed that a third of the dockworkers made redundant after May 1989 are still unemployed. About 40 per cent have found work - in the television and food factories, for example, which fill industrial estates around the city. But the pay is low and the jobs are menial. Economists warn that the shift in employment patterns is deskilling the city. Craftsmen - such as shipwrights, fitters, coppersmiths and masons - are being forced to take jobs as cleaners, caretakers and Butlins redcoats.

To people who remember Plymouth as a prosperous, pleasant city which avoided economic decline for decades, the transformation is appalling and the threat that worse could come infuriating. Alan Huxham, 53, followed his father into the dockyards. One of his daughters has just left university and told him that she could not live in the south west because there were no jobs.

'The Cabinet is full of Scotsmen while we're treated as an afterthought,' he said. 'We've taken our share of trimming and cutting, far more than Rosyth. We've got to the stage where the young don't have a future. We have the skills but outsiders don't realise it. They get past Exeter and think all there is down here are tourists.'