NOT since the closure of the Ravenscraig steel works in 1992 has Scotland faced as serious a threat to its industrial base as it does today with the potential loss of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant and oil refinery.
Yesterday’s announcement by operator Ineos that the petrochemical arm was to close with the direct loss of 800 jobs was a devastating blow to a totemic part of the country’s infrastructure. The worry now is that the oil refinery side of the business is also vulnerable. If Ineos were to abandon that too, the misery for Central Scotland, and Scottish manufacturing more generally, would be complete.
A blame game now is inevitable, if not particularly productive. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the management approach to this whole dispute has been brutish and reckless. The union has characterised it as akin to blackmail, and there is more than a little truth in that. This is not the 1970s. This is not how we expect responsible management to act in the 21st century. The argument from some observers that Ineos was seeking all along to close Grangemouth is difficult to refute with any great conviction, given the circumstances.
Yet the Unite union, too, has serious questions to answer. Faced with a threat to its members’ working conditions, the union understandably resisted. But it entirely misread the management’s mood and intent. With the writing on the wall, union officials were unable to bring themselves to compromise to save their members’ jobs. So instead of having jobs with a money purchase pension and a pay freeze – conditions familiar to tens of millions of fellow workers across the country for some years now – these workers have no jobs at all. The union, too, has been reckless. It has ill-served its members.
There is already speculation about the possibility of saving Grangemouth by nationalising it. There are, of course precedents: New Labour effectively nationalised Railtrack and two major banks, and the SNP government recently nationalised Prestwick Airport. But such speculation is premature at best, and may even be counter-productive at this stage. There could come a moment when the pros and cons need to be examined, and a decision made, but this is not that moment.
The priority now should be first to see if there is any scope whatsoever to get Ineos to stay at Grangemouth, if not on the present scale then in a smaller role, perhaps centred on the oil refinery side of the business. If, as insiders seem to indicate, that is a hopeless task, then the emphasis should shift to whether another operator can be found who would be willing to take it on, in full or in part, with taxpayers’ help if necessary.
Despite the high political stakes, co-operation between UK and Scottish governments is crucial. But let us not fool ourselves here. The situation is dire and the prognosis is not good.
House must rethink approach to saunas
SIR Stephen House and Police Scotland have been given a bloody nose. And they deserve it.
The police had asked the licensing committee of Edinburgh city council to close 13 of the capital’s saunas after a crackdown by the new single national police force.
But yesterday councillors in the capital substantially rebuffed Police Scotland and decided to keep most of them open.
For decades, Edinburgh’s saunas have offered far more than a steam room and a massage. They were part of a sex industry that operated side by side with more conventional Edinburgh life in some of the most salubrious parts of the capital.
The long-standing consensus among local politicians, social workers and police was that this was preferable – and much safer for the women involved – than having prostitutes operating on the street, as is the case in Glasgow.
Scotland’s two main cities had radically different views on how to deal with this issue, and each seemed perfectly happy with its own solution. So when Police Scotland was formed with promises that local policing priorities would be respected, and that there would be local accountability, no-one expected this to change.
Sir Stephen, chief constable of Strathclyde before becoming chief of Police Scotland, apparently thought otherwise. With no obvious attempt at consultation, he sought to standardise policing in a way that was either arrogant or naive.
In other areas of policing – notably on domestic abuse – Sir Stephen has shown great sensitivity in adapting policing to the subtleties of society. He needs to think again on saunas.