Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross has been condemned by critics of the arms trade for a “two-bit tank rider” stunt with a French arms firm in Glasgow which deals with Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Ross recently visited the Thales Optronics factory in Glasgow as part of the Tories’ election campaign. He was pictured standing masked on top of a Hawkei armoured vehicle, reminiscent of former Tory leader Ruth Davidson who once sat astride a tank, to show support for the military.
Thales – the 14th largest arms firm in the world – employs over 700 people across two main sites in Glasgow and Rosyth. A spokesman for Ross said his visit to the Glasgow site was to support apprentices working for Thales.
But opponents of the arms trade said Ross’s visit was “inappropriate” as Thales sells weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Its air force has been accused of war crimes in Yemen, where thousands of children have been killed in bombings.
As reported by The Ferret, schools and hospitals have been bombed by the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) prompting widespread criticism and calls for an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Thales is heavily involved with the Saudis and the firm also sells warfare products to Russia.
Its links to Saudi Arabia stretch back 50 years. Thales has provided the kingdom with air defence systems, radars and electronic warfare equipment.
Thales also sells targeting equipment to the Eurofighter, a warplane used in Yemen by the RSAF, as part of a consortium co-lead by another arms firm, Leonardo, which has a factory in Edinburgh.
According to Thales: “The targeting pods are now equipping both Saudi Arabia’s Tornado and Typhoon combat jets.”
The Damocles pods are also used by Russia, reportedly the first piece of western equipment approved for combat aircraft used by Vladimir Putin’s armed forces.
Emma Cockburn, Scotland co-ordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Ross’s campaign stop by Thales does nothing but highlight Scotland’s contribution to the six-year bombardment of Yemen. Thousands of lives have been cut short because of his colleagues’ continued commitment to arming the Saudi-led coalition from Westminster.”
Cockburn added: “It’s not shocking that he is towing the party line and pushing for a stronger pipeline of workers into the arms industry, despite the vital need for retraining and diversification into the renewable energy sector. There is clear opposition across Scotland to arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the Scottish Conservatives have their priorities all wrong.”
Ross Greer, Scottish Greens’ external affairs spokesperson, said: “It shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering that the UK’s Tory government, of which Douglas Ross was until recently a minister, has enthusiastically trained, armed and supported the brutal Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen.”
“Thousands of Yemeni children have died as schools, hospitals and even funerals have been bombed by the Saudi air force, using equipment supplied by the UK,” Greer added.
“Douglas Ross may have enjoyed his two-bit ‘Ruth Davidson, tank rider’ impression but no gormless Tory photocall can wash away the pain the arms industry causes to people across the world.”
In reply, a spokesman for Ross said that Thales provides young Scots with opportunities to “train, learn new skills and progress in their careers”.
The spokesman added: “Douglas Ross’s visit was to meet some of those young apprentices, and launch the party’s proposals to remove caps on apprenticeship places and build a system more aligned with businesses so that young people had more and better opportunities in the future.
“Not every young person in Scotland gets to earn a comfortable wage as an MSP like Ross Greer but it’s hardly a surprise he’s clueless on that front. He’s too busy virtue-signalling to understand why delivering opportunities for the next generation, as Thales does, is so important.”
Thales is involved in the education sector with projects in schools and universities across Scotland. The company says its aim is to inspire students to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
The UK Government was condemned recently after ministers announced it would cut aid to Yemen by nearly 50 per cent to £87 million this year, down from £164 million in 2020. Boris Johnson blamed the pandemic for the decision to cut spending.
The value of UK arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen amounts to £6.8 billion since 2015, says CAAT.
Oxfam recently accused the British government of prolonging the war in Yemen by allowing the export of air-to-air refuelling equipment. The charity said this could be used to help the Saudi air force conduct indiscriminate bombing in the country.
Thales has been asked to comment.
Photo thanks to iStock and dzika_mrowka