Ash Regan: Why Scotland MUST fight for its only oil refinery

LAST week in the Scottish Parliament was unprecedented. Despite the shock announcement that the Grangemouth oil refinery is to close, and it featuring in every newspaper, there was almost an effort NOT to talk about it in Parliament.

Neither Douglas Ross nor Anas Sarwar cared enough to raise the issue. We know the Tories have a strong track record in consigning key Scottish industries to history but with the fate of the most important industrial plant in all of Scotland hanging in the balance, both the Tories and Labour chose to focus not on thousands at risk of losing livelihoods but on one single person’s responsibility for his £11,000 iPad bill.

I understand there are very easy politics to play here but when it comes to standing up for Scottish industry, Scotland needs its Parliament to act.

The frustration of the workforce should be matched by the rest of the country and it requires urgent action from both the Scottish and UK governments.

Last year, Scotland sent more than £9 billion in North Sea oil and gas revenues to the UK Treasury, but we are not seeing a penny back to invest in future-proofing key infrastructure such as the Grangemouth refinery.

We shouldn’t forget that, despite the UK Government claiming it would finally invest in the Acorn Project, which could lead to it becoming the world leader in carbon capture technology, Scotland has not yet received a penny from Rishi Sunak.

When it comes to saving Grangemouth, Humza Yousaf should have immediately intervened to secure an industrial future, instead of offering the workforce nothing more than warm words.

It sounded like a resigned acceptance of the inevitability of failure. There is nothing just in a transition that transforms Grangemouth from a site that is home to a combined 10,000 years of expert knowledge to one that simply receives refined oil in large shipments and transfers it into lorries to cart it around the UK.

Scotland’s oil and gas industry could be the financial engine room of an independent Scotland; powering us ahead in a fast-growing and diverse economy. We must ensure we do not allow ourselves to lose the essential capacity to refine our own production.

That is where the value added comes from as well as the environmental advantage of refining close to the point of production. Scotland first did that a full century ago when Grangemouth was established to refine our shale oil.

It will be a national disgrace if we allow Scotland’s natural resources and the jobs to be exported to be refined elsewhere and instead merely imported through a skeleton-staffed Grangemouth.

Our politicians were asleep at the wheel last week and I was disappointed at the answer I received when I called for the Scottish Government to intervene to save the plant.

The suspicion is, of course, that the SNP/Green government is quite relaxed about the future disappearance of the Grangemouth refinery. The Tories will stand by and watch it close just like they stood by and watched the demolition of Ravenscraig. Labour’s silence is an indication that they are no longer a party that represents the working class of Scotland.

Perhaps those with influence over the Scottish Government feel it would be much easier to meet their climate targets if this plant would just go away and allow the emissions to be reported by the other countries that would refine our oil instead?

Other countries will process and export Scotland’s highest-value natural resource, earn the profits and secure well-paid, highly skilled jobs. Of course, from the planet’s point of view this may well lead to an increase in emissions because of the additional transportation impact on the environment.

It is doubtful whether the Scottish Parliament has a government minister or indeed a single official with the political weight to make a difference. There is certainly not a single Tory minister at Westminster who cares if Grangemouth stays open. Why should they? As long as the revenues keep flowing from the North Sea to London, no Westminster government will lose sleep over the loss of Scottish industry and skilled jobs, especially when England will retain five major refineries.

Since 2014, the Scottish Government has failed to maintain a relationship with the top level at Grangemouth operators Ineos. The vital relationship with trade unions has also been diminished. These are the foundations that are needed to launch a serious campaign fight to secure the refinery as was successfully done by the Scottish Government in 2008 and 2013.

This doesn’t have to be at the expense of net zero – it can be part of it. If this government is serious about a just transition, then this should be a test case to roll out a credible and coherent plan to transfer skills and jobs across to other industrial sectors.

An action plan, based on previous due diligence work, should be rolled out. However, its absence is glaring, and I suspect that the just transition policy is a theoretical model lacking any credible ambition.

Turning Grangemouth into a modernised hub for refining, hydrogen production and carbon capture would require real commitment and rapid decision-making from government. But this is what needs to happen. It would be part of a long overdue industrial strategy for Scotland which retains highly skilled, high-value jobs and offers opportunities for future generations.

I will keep fighting this issue in Holyrood and it will be to the shame of this current Scottish Parliament if it is incapable of rising to the occasion to show the serious leadership that is required to stand up for Scotland.

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