It is not only the 800 people who were about to lose their jobs who will be relieved that the Grangemouth petrochemical plant is to stay open after all. So will their colleagues at the next-door refinery, the future of which was also imperilled. So will the other 10,000-plus who rely on Scotland’s largest industrial complex for their livings. And so, too, will Alex Salmond.
The closure was the result of a trade-union stand-off that backfired. After staff rejected the terms-and-conditions changes that the facility’s owner deemed necessary to stem £150m-a-year losses, Ineos concluded it must shut the plant. Cue swift back-tracking from Unite, “warts and all” acceptance of the management’s plan, and – yesterday morning – a deal keeping Grangemouth open. The union agreed to frozen pay and reduced pensions, and ruled out a strike for three years. Ineos, meanwhile, will invest another £300m.
Smiles all round, then; and rightly so. Given the potential catastrophe – for both individuals and the local economy – no wonder both Edinburgh and Westminster were pushing hard for a deal. And no wonder they were quick to put their money where their mouths are, with a £9m grant and a £125m loan guarantee, respectively.
For the Scottish National party, though, the situation was even more loaded. Support for independence is already flatlining, ahead of next year’s referendum. Equally, while it would be unwise to over-interpret the SNP’s by-election loss on Thursday, it hardly helps. Had Grangemouth closed, the canny Mr Salmond might have tried to portray it as evidence of London’s indifference, particularly given the recent pricey commitment to nuclear power in Somerset. But with nearly 10 per cent of Scottish industry at risk in a single stroke, such cavilling would likely be drowned out by understandable concern at the country’s solo viability.
There is every reason to welcome the end of the Grangemouth dispute. As Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe put it yesterday, it is a “victory for common sense”. The implications for Scottish independence may not be resolved so easily.