The narrative on Grangemouth matters for the communities at risk

In any industrial dispute or closure there’s a battle of the narrative waged between employers and employees seeking to get their side of the story out. It’s important as it sets the tone in the press but also for the public.  Sometimes it's just localised and between the opposing sides in the dispute. On other occasions Governments can become involved and the confrontation becomes a far more national affair. Memories go back 40 years to the Miners’ strike and the abuse of police and laws to close an entire industry and way of life.

Now in Scotland the battle is on to save Grangemouth Refinery. Job numbers may be less than in the pits all those decades ago, but the high stakes remain equally high. Lose this and Scotland becomes the only major oil producing nation without a refinery capacity; ranking alongside the likes of the Republic of Congo and Trinidad and Tobago both of whom produce significantly less oil. It’s also the further de-industrialisation of Scotland, as jobs losses won’t be restricted to the site and the closure of other factories will follow across a swathe of other sectors.

As with mining it’s not just the loss of jobs for this generation. It is a young workforce there and leaving their native land not just moving house will beckon for many, if it’s Grangemouth No More. It’s also the site where many learned a trade even if they now work far from there and even in other industries. Where will future generations learn to become engineers or fitters if it shuts. Practical skills are needed not just college courses, and there must be work available when you’re trained.

That’s why this fight is Scotland’s fight and why the workforce are fighting for much more than just their own jobs. It’s for our industrial base and jobs for future generations that are at stake. It’s also why the narrative matters. The truth not the fiction is as necessary here as it has been in other disputes.

During the Miners' strike the government said the pits were unprofitable. No, they weren’t. Some were but not all. They said alternative work would be located in mining communities. No, it wasn’t, and they remain devastated to this day. They said that coal use had to end, and a transition be made. No, it didn’t as they simply imported coal from abroad. Closure would have had to happen eventually, but it should have been phased and been a Just Transition.

Which leads us on to the narrative being spun for the closure of Grangemouth Refinery. It’s not just being pumped out by Ineos, the owners, but echoed by the UK Government. It’s suggested that the plant isn’t profitable and that closure’s inevitable. Cue much hand wringing and soul searching as a stake’s to be driven through the community and country’s heart. What can be done, it’s just inevitable is the fiction being portrayed.

Yet, the truth as the National’s sister paper disclosed substantial profits are being made. Investigative journalism in the Herald on Sunday showing £100 million profit for 2022 and last year it was likely even more. 

Of course, the profits aren’t as high as they could and should be as the hydrocracker which vastly increases yield and profitability has been out of order. Sorting that would eat into the profits but its more than covered by what they would make as a firm. Never mind what the UK treasury takes in revenues from that firm individually, let alone the collective wealth that’s Scottish oil.

Again, the narrative matters. Both Ineos and the UK Government are suggesting that there’s no money or they can’t afford it. Yet that’s simply not true as has been exposed. More importantly whilst there’s no money for this refinery, there’s funds for others including one which isn’t even sited in the UK. It’s Government doublespeak.

The Department of Energy and Net Zero saying there’s no funds and there’s nothing that can be done. Meanwhile, the Department of Business and Trade are offering support funds to Ineos for a new plant at Antwerp in Belgium. The extent of that pledge is into the hundreds of millions whilst Grangemouth only requires a fraction of that.

The logic according to the Business Department is that it will support UK jobs in the supply chain. Though they’re unable to specify just how many or indeed seem to have taken into account how many will be lost as a result. It’s created the perversity of the UK funding a refinery in Belgium to process Scottish oil, whilst closing Scotland’s Refinery. Ineos having received money for UK sites can now walk away but get additional support for a Belgium one. That’s not what a Brexit bonus was meant to be.

Finally, as with the miners there’s the yarn of the need to transition. That’s as undeniable with oil as it was with coal. But it’s the pace at which it’s done which then and now is creating an unjust transition. It’s environmental lunacy to tranship oil across the oceans for refining and then bring it back for use when there’s a facility in the heart of Scotland. There’s no credible environmental argument for closure now.

A transition to biofuels is to be welcomed but that’s not happening for several decades and closures imminent. The Scottish Business Secretary, Marie McAllen’s call is naïve and totally inadequate. Ensuring the refinery remains in operation is essential to have a site to transition too, as well as the skills needed to work it.

It’s why narrative matters in this fight. The truth is that the plant is profitable. The reality is that Scotland’s Refinery is to close but the UK Government will be supporting the opening of a new one in Belgium.

It’s time the Scottish Government heeded the facts and defended the workforce and the plant. Supine acceptance of Ineos and UK spin is unacceptable. Standing up for the workforce and Scotland's what’s needed. 


[This article was first published in The National on 08/04/2024]                     

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