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Ineos, the SNP and a fillip for Scotttish independence

Grangemouth 2I write about the decadence of the British ruling class and then confirmation makes the headlines shortly thereafter. There is nothing I can add about the specifics, except to say this piece by Robin McAlpine is an excellent rundown of what’s been happening at Grangemouth, as well as a condemnation of Britain’s flexible labour markets – where flexibility is labour’s responsibility and capital’s rigidity is sacrosanct – and the appalling London centrism of our media and our politics.

I want to make some quick observations.

1) Ineos are the biggest privately-owned company in the UK. According to its corporate website, they enjoy a turnover of some $43bn/year. It also was in line for a £150m bung from the government under its infrastructure guarantee scheme (backed by the taxpayer to the tune of £40bn). This despite moving corporate HQ to Switzerland in a dispute over an unpaid VAT bill. Their feeling of entitlement to public money is not matched by their enthusiasm to meet their obligations, it would seem.

2) The dispute has been long in its gestation. Ineos tried coming for the final salary pension scheme in 2008, using almost identical rhetoric as today. The company claim Grangemouth is unprofitable and losing cash hand over fist. Despite figures claiming to the contrary, they maintain the health indicated by the balance sheet is a trick of accountancy and that major investment is needed for its continued viability. They say this investment (which is part-funded from the public purse anyway) is conditional upon the workforce accepting a significant diminution in pensions, wages and a no-strike deal. Their reason for playing hardball with the workers is not that the union is being irresponsible or “refusing to see reality” (reality is largely determined by the billionaire Ineos founder, Jim Ratcliffe, who happens to own two-thirds of its shares), it’s because their opposition goes right to the heart of the business model the company operates with.

3) The political response from the SNP has been less than stellar. Criticising Ineos’s appalling behaviour is one thing, but calling on them to sell Grangemouth to someone else who’ll make a go of it merely kicks the problem into the long grass. The issue isn’t that one company is nasty and that there are nicer ones out there, it’s a matter of private ownership. The question Grangemouth raises is whether one man – Jim Ratcliffe – without any accountability whatsoever should have the right to close a strategic sector of the Scottish economy. I’m guessing most people’s answer would be “no”.

4) This could effect the politics of next autumn’s independence referendum. Dave’s speedy retreat from the Commons just as an urgent question was put down yesterday after PMQs says all you need to know about the government’s response. Put plainly, the Westminster Bubble doesn’t care. As far as they’re concerned, not only is it somewhere no Tory will ever be elected, it’s purely a matter for Ineos and its employees. Also, as inadequate as the SNP response is the Scottish government has only so many powers – I don’t think outright nationalisation is among them. An uncaring national government and a relatively powerless devolved administration are just the pick-me-ups the floundering Yes campaign needs.

The article first appeared at A Very Public Sociologist

6 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Seems the Union has retreated and given in for the sake of the 800 men wages and the people who did not go out of strike out numbered those that did.

    This has to be the issue for Unions these day how, they can work within factories shops and work places when they are not covering all the work force.

  2. Stephen says:

    ” Also, as inadequate as the SNP response is the Scottish government has only so many powers – I don’t think outright nationalisation is among them.”…. two weeks ago the Scottish Government announced that they were nationalising the failing Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire. Industrial policy is devolved.

    “An uncaring national government and a relatively powerless devolved administration are just the pick-me-ups the floundering Yes campaign needs.”… The develoved administration isn’t relatively powerless – The problem is that their has been no political will to use the powers it does have. The Yes campaign is faltering because in general it lacks any coherence – It’s adherents claim that Indpendence will “free Scotland from the clutches of big Business” ( that’s colin Fox of the SSP who is a prominent YES campaign person… and also that it will be like a “friendly management buy out” That’s Jim McColl , Shief exec of Clyde Blowers, one of Scotland’s richest men who manages to be both a tax exile and an economic adviser to Alex Salmond.

    The SNP meanwhile claim that they will have Scandinavian socail services while welcoming George Osbornes Corporation tax cuts and promising to go further come independence.

  3. Stephen says:

    And ehh…just across the Forth, in a constituency where there are very definitely people affected by what is going on in Grangemouth…
    Dunfermline by-election result
    Scottish Labour – 10,275
    SNP – 7,402
    Lib Dems – 2,852
    Conservatives – 2,009
    UKIP – 908
    Greens – 593
    Independent – 161
    Labour majority: 2,873

    Turnout 24,200 – 42.65%

    Swing: 6.94% from SNP to Labour

  4. blunttrauma says:

    Hi Stephen, 53% of Labour voters are satisfied with the Scottish Government.

  5. Robert says:

    Well after listing to labour in Scotland talking about cuts and how they get people back to work I suppose you could say a Tory party beat the SNP to win an election

  6. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to impose forced nationalisation. That power is reserved to Westminster.

    The SP can bring companies into public ownership ONLY providing the owners agree to it aka Prestwick Airport.

    Let’s assume Ineos walked away and a buyer could not be found. The Coalition government stated they would not nationalise Grangemouth. I am struggling to think of a better reason why Scotland must be an Independent nation.

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