BLUNTLY, the settlement reached with the Grangemouth workforce looks to have made Ineos a big winner and the union, Unite, a big loser.
That, however, is too simplistic – the reality is that a highly paid workforce in Scotland’s biggest industrial complex have given themselves a good chance of a job that will last while other similar complexes in the rest of Europe will fail. Scotland is thus also a winner from this.
Workers will have to pay a price. Their salaries will be frozen in cash terms, and therefore cut in real terms, for the next three years, while their pensions will become markedly less generous.
Many other people have endured that, and worse, over the last five years in order to preserve their jobs. So the workforce can count themselves no less hard done by than many of their fellow Scots who might well envy the apparent security that the Grangemouth staff now have.
Unite can count itself fortunate too. The union has certainly lost a huge amount of credibility and will also lose the luxury of having full-time officials at the plant whose salaries are paid by the company.
Still to be decided is the fate of Steven Deans, the official whose involvement in the Falkirk Labour party selection led to disciplinary action by the company against him and was the spark that led to the dispute, shutdown, and the threat of closure.
This imbroglio has led to any number of conspiracy theories. Some have been knocked on the head. If it was Ineos’ intention all along to shut the plant, as claimed by Unite, why has the company reversed the closure decision? If the site was actually making a profit as the union also claimed, and not the £10 million per month loss claimed by Ineos, why would it want to deprive itself of that income?
The suspicion that Ineos forced the pace by singling out Mr Deans may well be more justified. Yet the big picture, which Unite seemed oblivious to in its determination to focus on the fate of one man, is that the entire European petrochemical industry, even that part of it run by German chemicals giant BASF, is facing an imminent and ferociously competitive flood of cheap petrochemical products already starting to come from America and the Middle East.
There, vast petrochemical plants are being built to take advantage of gas (from shale in the US case) that is up to a quarter of the price it is in Europe.
Grangemouth’s chances of surviving this price revolution depend on one key factor – that it is one of the few European facilities with the ability to process this gas.
All it needs is a £300m terminal to import it and replace dwindling North Sea gas. Now the onus is on Ineos to get on with it and make good its promise of a bright future.
New MSP should welcome help
CONGRATULATIONS to Cara Hilton, Scotland’s newest MSP and commiserations to Shirley-Anne Somerville, who lost the Dunfermline by-election for the Holyrood seat won by the SNP from Labour in 2011. Is this a big sea-change in Scottish politics indicating that the tide is now turning against the SNP?
Not really. The seat was won with a slim majority by the SNP in a landslide election which surpassed even the Nationalists’ expectations. Holding on to it was always going to be a tough, particularly with local issues involving school closures which invite voters to rap the governing party’s knuckles. The outcome says little about how next year’s independence referendum will play out, save that voters are more sceptical about the SNP than they were two years ago.
For Labour, the result, taken with other better by-election performances, indicates that the party is recovering but has yet to win back the kind of loyalty that used to sustain it. Much hard work, which Ms Hilton is promising her new constituents, is yet needed before it can claim to have won back public trust.
The result is perhaps more important for the people of Dunfermline who had to endure the scandal of a representative who was a wife-beater in complete self-denial. The town’s interests were ill-served by disgraced Bill Walker, but now it can move on.
There is much for Ms Hilton to do. Dunfermline, like too many Scottish towns is not short of economic and social problems that need to be tackled. To her credit, Ms Somerville indicated a willingness to work across the political divide to that end. Ms Hilton should not be too proud of her victory to refuse that help.