Grangemouth oil refinery closure plan highlights SNP's lack of planning for 'just transition' – Brian Wilson

With hundreds of jobs at the Grangemouth oil refinery at risk, a ‘just transition’ is needed but, for all its virtue-signalling, the Scottish Government does not appear to have a plausible plan

Reality is a dangerous obstacle with which to collide. For the past decade, the Scottish Government relied on avoiding it. So long as virtue was signalled and satisfactory headlines obtained, outcomes and consequences were details for another day. Laptops for every child? Great headline. Never happened. Who cares? Launch a ferry with painted-on windows? There’s an election to be won. So ignore all advice and go for it.

That was the culture they lived by and, when intimations of reality occasionally intervened, there was someone else to blame. The climate change agenda was ripe for these pickings. We were to be the most virtuous wee country in the world. There was no target we could not outbid, nothing we could not ban, no timescale we could not improve upon and no laggardly behaviour, preferably by Westminster, we could not excoriate. Reality did not have a look in.

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In 2021, having surveyed the globe, a Scottish Government paper boasted: “No country has developed a National Just Transition Planning Framework – until now.” The unwary awaited an epic masterplan of Cecil B de Mille proportions. Instead, there is no plan at all while market-driven events shape the future.

Grangemouth oil refinery could close as early as spring 2025 with the loss of 400 jobs (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)Grangemouth oil refinery could close as early as spring 2025 with the loss of 400 jobs (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Grangemouth oil refinery could close as early as spring 2025 with the loss of 400 jobs (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Wider economy would suffer with Grangemouth closure

This week brought an announcement that joint venture Petroineos may close Scotland’s only oil refjnery at Grangemouth with the loss of 400 jobs. Implications for the wider economy are severe. That’s reality. Yet how much effort was put into pre-empting it, while signalling indifference or worse through coalition with the Greens?

Ineos and PetroChina are hard-headed commercial operations with global portfolios. They might have made their decision anyway. But the Scottish Government’s irrational negativity towards anything connected to fossil fuels has been the antithesis of the approach demanded by a “just transition”.

Transitioning depends on maintaining what exists while creating pathways towards the future. It is a process which must be planned for and managed with great care. Yet the demonisation of fossil fuels, on which Scotland’s industrial history has been built, remains unmatched by any plausible plan for the process which must replace them.

Earlier this year, a Holyrood committee inquired specifically into “a just transition for the Grangemouth area” and ended up calling plaintively on the Scottish Government to “establish a clear and concise definition of what is meant by ‘just transition’ to inform future plans”. If the meaning of ‘just transition’ could not be defined, what were the prospects of achieving it?

Will Greens celebrate demise of carbon-capture scheme?

Apart from the importance of Grangemouth in its own right, it is crucial to the Acorn project for carbon capture and storage in the North Sea. If there is not enough carbon to capture, you don’t have a viable project. So when making demands for Acorn to be funded, did Scottish ministers also understand the importance of securing Grangemouth?

The Scottish Greens, with whom the SNP are in government, actually “oppose public investment in carbon capture and storage as it is unproven and the vast majority of projects are linked to enhanced oil recovery”. If Acorn collapses because Grangemouth is closing, will one half of the Scottish Government exude indignation while the other toasts a green triumph?

Because of such contradictions, the “just transition” promise is now regarded as just more empty words. The years are already rolling towards 2030, by which time much of this is supposed to be in place with scores of thousands of jobs at stake as the North Sea declines (though not fast enough in the view of the Scottish Government).

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People need to see a clear setting-out of where the alternatives will come from and how infrastructure will be created to support them. We might not need a “world-first” National Just Transition Planning Framework but some hard evidence of progress would be welcome, which must involve a joint effort by the Scottish and UK governments – as should, in a rational environment, have been ongoing for years.

Meanwhile, at the domestic end of the energy scale, the idiotic degree to which the Scottish Government depends on sloganising was epitomised at First Minister’s Questions when the Tory MSP, Edward Mountain, asked a sensible question about the timescale for replacing fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps in rural, off-gas areas. The problems are practical rather than ideological. In response, Humza Yousaf ranted about the Earth being on fire and demanding to know whether Mr Mountain’s party “are on the side of trying to protect and save our planet or on the side of climate deniers and climate sceptics”.

Friendly fire from Fergus Ewing

In this world of assumed superiority where reality plays no part, virtue is defined by such nonsense. Just about every rural household Mr Mountain spoke for would happily exchange their fossil fuel boiler for some other form of affordable heating. Denouncing them as “climate deniers and climate sceptics” is a poor substitute for working out a solution to a genuine problem.

Fergus Ewing pointed out that the heat-pump diktat is also leading to a fall in the number of new houses being built and added helpfully: “If the First Minister wants to tackle the housing shortage, will he consign the Scottish Green party’s half-baked, pie-in-the-sky policy to the bin, where it belongs, alongside the deposit return scheme and highly protected marine areas? “Will he,” Mr Ewing continued, “recycle his Green ministers to the back benches, where they belong, and then meet industry and real experts – actual experts – to work out a plan to solve the problem?”.

I think that’s called friendly fire. Talking of which, good luck to Alex Salmond with his legal action. Those who succeeded him thought they were untouchable on that account also. Reality might be more difficult to avoid in a court of law than in a Holyrood committee. And to be fair to Mr Salmond, he would certainly have understood the meaning of “just transition”.



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