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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Grangemouth, Ineos and Unite.  We have all sat transfixed by a battle between management and union that appeared straight out the 1970s.
 
"This has been one of the worst industrial relations disasters of modern times and has disturbing implications for trade unionism, the Labour Party and Scotland." wrote Iain Macwhirter in his own analysis.

Macwhirter was bang on the money with his appraisal of First Minister Alex Salmond's efforts in helping persuade Ineos that it was in their interest to keep the plant open.  But Salmond's efforts have not transferred into positive headlines in the Scottish media - surprise, surprise.

The role of the Scottish media in this episode and the sometimes obsessive desire by BBC Scotland to try to stir up controversy during the most delicate periods of the dispute will be touched on later.  But I think it's worth looking at who benefitted from the 'Battle of Grangemouth'.

It goes without saying that the workers have been let down.  The union balloted them on industrial action after a Unite official was investigated for apparently conducting Labour party business during work time and on Grangemouth plant premises.  According to reports, Stephen Deans was trying to recruit staff employed at the facility into the Labour party and then, according to leaked emails, tried to cover up his actions.

The membership voted to strike after Ineos threatened to discipline Deans and a chain of events was set in motion that almost ended up with the plant being closed.

The other big loser is the Unite union itself.  It walked into a fist fight with a street brawler who hits below the belt.  Jim Ratcliffe treated threats from the union with arrogant contempt.  The first sign of the ruthlessness of Ratcliffe and Ineos arrived with the command to cold-shutdown the plant.

It took everyone by surprise and resulted in an almost immediate climb-down by the union which issued panicked statements pledging no strikes until the New Year.  This prompted an emboldened Ineos to send letters to workers outlining changes to their terms of employment that the company said were necessary if the plant was to stay open.

Whether the consultation letter was really a serious attempt at avoiding a closure of all or part of the plant is unknown, but events took a turn for the worse with Ineos' shock announcement that the petrochemical plant would close.

That decision effectively ended Unite's role in the dispute in any meaningful sense.  They had been outmanoeuvred and were now reduced to begging Ratcliffe for a reprieve on behalf of workers whose livelihoods they had placed in jeopardy.

In the background though the Scottish Government had anticipated Ineos and were already days ahead in search of a new site manager.  Alex Salmond's actions may well have saved not just Grangemouth but any realistic chances of a Yes vote in the independence referendum.

Standing back and looking at the debris in the cold light of day, Unite have been beaten.  The union's credibility is in tatters.  How many worforces throughout the UK will place their futures in the hands of a leadership that has proved so inept?

Throughout almost all of this the Labour party sat silent.  Miliband didn't even bring the matter of Grangemouth up at Prime Minister's Questions after Ineos had announced its closure plans.

Now a union who dared take on the UK Labour leadership has been publicly humiliated - how very convenient for Ed Miliband.

Moreover, the dispute between Unite and Labour in Falkirk is back in the spotlight.  Emails have been leaked to the Sunday Times that appear to show Unite official Stephen Deans conducting Labour party business during work time.

The narrative being presented is that Deans was out to circumvent Labour party procedure and was attempting to rig the ballot to select a replacement for disgraced MP Eric Joyce.  The latest saga to the Falkirk fiasco also paints Ed Miliband as the hapless victim in a coordinated attempt by Deans at covering up Unite's actions in Falkirk.

Labour of course carried out their own internal investigation which found no wrongdoing by the union.  The emails leaked by Ineos may well see that investigation resurrected and who would bet against Deans being found guilty in this feral atmosphere.

Deans' days may well already be numbered at Grangemouth.  The Sunday Times revealed that the company has already indicated its desire to sack the Unite official.  Don't be surprised if Ineos gets its way very soon!

Labour may also get to announce Unite's guilt in Falkirk and so two troublesome birds are effectively killed off with one stone.  Ineos get what they want, Labour get what they want and a Falkirk dispute that caused difficulty for Johann Lamont is blamed on an out of control union.

The ground is already being laid for Labour to absolve itself of any responsibility for Falkirk with Lamont turning up on Sunday's Politics Scotland saying the claims against Deans "should be looked at" and Labour should not be a "plaything of individual groupings".

The Conservatives won't mind a powerful union being weakened.

Like I say, it all appears too convenient.

But what of the SNP Government?  Incredibly Swinney and Salmond have emerged with credit and Salmond's stock has enhanced considerably.

This though is almost certainly down to Salmond and or Swinney realising what was happening.  Nobody really took seriously the possible closing down of the Grangemouth facility.  Indeed hours before the shock announcement BBC Scotland reporter Colin Blaine reported his own belief that the plant would remain open.

The corporation adopted a stance that refused to take seriously the possibility that Grangemouth was indeed under serious threat of closure.  It was a belief that was prevalent throughout BBC Scotland's coverage.  Coverage that periodically sought to politicise the crisis, questioning its impact on the independence debate.

Interviews conducted by BBC Scotland saw questions asked that appeared to be designed to generate controversial headlines that would undoubtedly have compromised the Scottish Government's role as an honest broker.

Bizarre questions were posed that invited Salmond and Swinney to endorse what were a mixture of anti-Chinese xenophobic claims and spurious evidence free allegations.

James Naughtie's question to Alex Salmond the day after Salmond entered the dispute was as ludicrous as it was dangerous when the BBC presenter suggested the Chinese Government were responsible for the erosion of workers' rights at Grangemouth.

The Labour MP cited by the BBC presenter - Michael Connarty - had in fact attacked the UK government accusing it of having colluded with Ineos in order to break the workers at Grangemouth, as can be seen from the video at the end of this article.

The anti-Chinese sentiment was also evident in a less than impressive interview conducted by Gordon Brewer on the evening before Ineos made its shock closure announcement.  Some of the language used by Brewer in this interview is shocking, accusing the Scottish Government of "hawking" Grangemouth and of "soliciting" buyers.

Brewer then conducted an interview with Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty in which the BBC man invited the union official to effectively threaten strike action.  Had Rafferty done so then a very delicate situation could have been made worse.

Note the references to North Sea oil in both interviews, which was also highlighted in the opening sequences at the beginning of the programme.

Throughout the crisis and indeed even after the shock closure announcement, BBC Scotland appeared desperate to introduce the independence angle into its coverage.  Douglas Fraser and Tim Reid presented the dispute as damaging to the pro-independence campaign and others were keen to present the dispute as a major threat to North Sea Oil.

Alex Salmond's emergence as the key broker desperately trying to get both sides to see sense was an irritation to the corporation.  Even when the plant had been saved, some at the BBC still could not find it within themselves to praise Salmond.

The interview conducted by BBC presenter Edward Stourton was a case in point and Salmond found himself having to educate another arrogant BBC employee.

But arguably worse was a set-piece between BBC Scotland Business and Economy Editor Douglas Fraser and former Labour party senior researcher Alf Young that was broadcast on Sunday.  Alf Young is no lover of the SNP and is very much a pro-Union journalist, although that fact is never disclosed when the journalist appears on political programmes.

Fraser and Young used the time not to highlight the role played by Salmond and the outstanding actions of the Scottish government in helping end the dispute, but used the events in order to mount a thinly veiled attack on independence and North Sea Oil.

North Sea oil, as well as being a volatile commodity, is now a "vulnerable" resource that "small" independent Scotland would be unable to protect.  In case listeners didn't get the point, Young and Fraser also managed to disparage small independent Finland at the same time.

So, was there any conspiracy to bring down Unite?  One person seemed to think so and it's a part of the story that has disappeared from the radar.  Labour MP Michael Connarty smelled a rat early on in the dispute and made his views clear in the House of Commons.

We'll probably never know who was involved or indeed whether there was any collusion by anyone.  But doesn't it seem strange that Westminster involvement in this dispute was kept to a bare minimum right up until Ineos announced the petrochemical plant was to close and Unite finally fell to its knees?

The Scottish Government could have been collateral damage in this episode and BBC Scotland appeared to be readying itself for an all-out attack on independence.

Alex Salmond realised what was happening, took control of the situation and the rest is now history.

Comments  

 
# fynesider 2013-10-27 22:52
The editorial in the Sunday Herald had good words for Alex Salmond.....

Now there's a turnup 4 the book
 
 
# call me dave 2013-10-27 23:17
In years to come two events should be remembered about how Scotland became independent.

1: Grangemouth and how the SG squeezed through a deal and

2: More importantly the 2007 election where the SNP got 47 seats to labours 46 seats.

Never forget!
 
 
# thejourneyman 2013-10-27 23:24
For anyone engaged in the campaign to get enough Scots to understand that a Yes vote is the only vote that will protect our coutry's future, this whole sorry sags exposes so many of the truths coming to light. How can the Labour party come out of this with any credibility at all is only down to the corrupt relations that have already been exposed at the BBC by Mr Bateman although he stepped back from such strong language. It is clear, as so eloquently described in this article, that an equally clear Labour led brief to the BBC existed. It is the only feasible explanation for such poor reporting that missed the exemplary job done by our First Minister and the Finance Secretary. No wonder the bankrupted UKPM refuses to debate AS it could well cost him another term in office.
 
 
# Mad Jock McMad 2013-10-27 23:25
Let us be very clear the UK Government loan guarantee was already in place to assist Ineos in modernising its ethane plant - it is not 'new' in any shape or form. It in fact costs the UK Treasury not a ha'penny but its is something only in Westminster's gift.

This opposed to the £9 million in support grant which Swinney has found to help sweeten the deal and may well be received by Ineos if they do not b*gger about with the current wage structure. One thing is for certain Salmond and Swinney will have insisted in a binding quid pro quo in return for the Scottish Government cash. Stourton's comments reveal the ignorance of the BBC when it comes to dealing with Scotland to the point of slandering the First Minister and Scotland. This is only going to get worse as the Better Together pips begin to squeak given since 2012 'Yes' has increased its vote share, reducing a 26% gap down to 8% in a year.
 
 
# deepthroat 2013-10-28 00:59
Changing the closure decision is a remarkable achievement for Alex Salmond, John Swinney and the Scottish Government. Nothing was less likely given the build up in the weeks leading to the closure decision. The Sunday Herald in their coverage has revealed that Salmond got BP to agree a lower gas price for the cracker plant worth some £40m. BP rely on steam from Grangemouth for the operation of their Kenneil facility which is an essential part of the Fortes Pipeline System.
Alex Salmond had an additional card. Jim Ratcliffe has no love of the UK government but would have seen in Salmond a hard headed negotiator that he could relate to backed by Swinney with all the figures at his command, as always.
Make no mistake, no other team could have pulled this off and saved Scotland from an industrial catastrophe where the votes of union members, badly advised by their local officials, threatened Scotland's economic future as well as their own.
 
 
# clootie 2013-10-28 06:06
Why can't the voters see it?

The BBC bias / the contract in competencies / the incompetence of the union leadership / the internal division and petty politics within Labour / only one group (SG) had the interests of the people first.

I just don't understand why something so obvious is still not translating to a YES landslide!
 
 
# mountaincadre 2013-10-28 07:29
Clootie the yes landslide will happen when its time to vote.
 
 
# Macart 2013-10-28 06:17
I don't think there's much doubt that the media are up to their favourite hobby of rewriting history to suit their narrative. However the facts are the facts. Where Westminster guaranteed a loan, the SG got out the hard cash. Where Westminster offered platitude and soundbite from a distance, the First Minister of Scotland and the Finance Minister went personally to broker a deal and offer arbitration.

Alex Salmond and John Swinney have been immense throughout this situation and thousands of livliehoods have been saved. A point one would hope that come next September will not be forgotten by the electorate. Who puts Scotland and Scottish jobs first?
 
 
# Breeks 2013-10-28 07:20
I'm still curious how such a large business providing services for the North Sea oil industry is at liberty to shut down production on an arbitrary whim without any apparent care for the needs of his customers.
We've heard plenty talk about the calamity of banks being too big to fail,so doesn't this debacle suggest there are perhaps too many eggs in the one basket of Grangemouth?
 
 
# Leader of the Pack 2013-10-28 07:57
Breeks what youre highlighting is the evidence of the strong case against the privatisation of vital public services and assets.
The failure of Privatisation of vital services has once again been proven but having political parties enthralled to a system that allows funding pressures to be exerted in order to determine policy and national direction leaves us vulnerable to obvious and damaging exploitation.
Party political funding is the key to political policy and until this is addressed all the evidence of national political & social failure in the world as a result will mean squat.
 
 
# Breeks 2013-10-28 14:01
Frankly I find one extreme as unhealthy as the other.
I wonder instead how these circumstances would have been handled differently in a country structured along the lines of the Common Weal.
On a shallow tangent, I am also concerned that unions are these days handling responsibilitie s which would be more properly addressed by the return of more powerful and effective Trade Guilds which have not been, and never should be, politicised by anyone.
 
 
# John Souter 2013-10-28 08:27
It is the chain of support.

The corporations support the Conservative party through 'donations' and in turn through advertising the media. When the Conservatives are in power they enact the policies required by their benefactors and the media in turn react favourably and give dubious claims of public and or common sense support.

You are told what to think.

But the really sad, if not dangerous aspect of this manipulation al la mode Westminster is that the Lib/Labs are desperate to doff their caps to the same benefactors.
 
 
# maisiedotts 2013-10-28 10:13
The biggest loser funnily enough is Jim Ratcliffe, no businessman or company or government will ever have trust, faith or confidence in dealing with hin/Ineos again.

Not only has he shown himself to be ruthless but also he has shown a depth of deceit, vindictiveness, planning and contempt for those he is dealing with rarely seen in business.

Would you give this man credit? Would you buy a used car off him? Would you trust him?
 
 
# Richieventon 2013-10-28 12:31
Your article makes some perceptive points, but misses several central ones.
INEOS sought to provoke a strike since at least March, holding a rocket-launcher to the heads of both workers and governments - to bludgeon £50m in concessions from workers and £150m from taxpayers. Labour's witch-hunt of union convener Stevie Deans gave Ratcliffe a perfect opening to apply his murky plot. What were UNITE and its members supposed to do? Lie down and let Ratcliffe sack their convener?!
This episode exposes the obscene folly of leaving Scotland's only refinery and biggest industrial site in the hands of a capitalist dictator. The glaring gap in Labour's role (no surprises there!) but also that of the Scottish government was their failure to pursue the blindingly obvious solution: public ownership. Alongside Ratcliffe holding Scotland to ransom, the price rises for household energy surely proves the case for democratic public ownership of energy. See more at richieventon.blogspot.com
 
 
# call me dave 2013-10-28 13:26
BBC GMS : Macwhirter here on Grangemouth this morning he interrupts in exasperation.

2hrs 10min in 'Super Salmond'. & Lamont silent and she's in UNITE.

www.bbc.co.uk/.../b03dwp9b

He sticks it to them here.
 
 
# call me dave 2013-10-28 16:17
UNITE Mr Deans resigns.

bbc.co.uk/.../...
 

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