Grangemouth and Privatisation

GRANGEMOUTH_2700282b
By J Simon Jones

This past few days has seen one of the most illuminating news cycles of recent times for anyone remotely concerned with the workings of the British state.

Last week it emerged that N:Power was raising prices for energy and gas more than 10%.

On Monday we learned, having known anyway for a while, that the Westminster government has agreed a French-led, Chinese-backed deal to build a new nuclear power plant in Somerset.

Wednesday saw the news that the Grangemouth Refinery’s owners, Ineos -a group whose free-market bona fides would give even John Major cause for concern – are planning to close the facility with the loss of 1500 jobs, because workers were unwilling to accept a minimum 3-year pay freeze amongst other similarly wretched assaults on their livelihoods.

Each piece of news represents the final stages-final in the sense of complete, not imminently ending-of Britain’s willing and enthusiastic slide into privatisation. A refinery on the east coast is bought by a company whose track record is a testament to debt-fuelled capitalist practices addled by the desire to make money in the most negative fashion imaginable. The government saw what was happening in Grangemouth, but was unperturbed, gleefully opening the door to foreign ownership of an energy infrastructure whose very existence ought to be a stain on the conscience of any area which could use alternatives (Scotland, people, I’m talking about Scotland.) Home fuel bills are ramped up, again, at the beginning of winter. Even Mr. Major, ex-PM and the last person to lead the Conservatives to an election victory, suggested that something needed to be done to counter the apparently unfettered greed of private companies, perhaps in the form of a tax, no less.

Nobody in a position of influence seems to be asking the real question here:

“Why are we willing to tolerate any opportunity for an essential service’s provision to be levied against financial gain?”

In privatising something which we cannot live without we are, by definition, sanctioning the exploitation of ourselves for the potential of stock ownership in that same corruption. There can be no legitimate argument, fiscal or moral, for the privatisation of such services-the very fact that a commodity is essential to modern life means it must be bought-whether there are 4 providers of it or 20 is irrelevant, because when you know that your product must be bought there is no incentive to lower your price below whatever is currently the lowest level.

In the response to events at Grangemouth we see the extent to which the British political landscape has shifted, irrevocably, away from the interests of ‘its’ people in Scotland. Local MP, Michael Connarty (Labour), “It confirms to me that they have a very callous view of their commitment to Scotland and to the people who work from them.” Really, Mike? Really? A multinational company which has in 15 years become one of the world’s leading petrochemical providers through some of the most high-risk, debt-financed ventures in a sector not known for its aversion to queeziness has a callous view of their commitment to Scotland.

It’s more like they never had one-and in this perhaps Ed Davey, Energy Secretary at Westminster, has a point when he says “While respecting Ineos’ right to make this decision…I continue to work very closely with the Scottish Government, and other colleagues across government, to share information with them.” Subtext: “CC me in on this guys, I’m going to lunch with some of those vile communists-something about a waste repository.”

Labour’s primary contribution to Grangemouth’s citizenry over the past few months seems to have been having a very public fight about its union membership policies, and subsequently strategising a way to have their swing-vote overlords in the Midlands believe they are in no way affiliated with the concerns of workers anywhere. Not that they need to spend the time-the unions have, for years, been steadily losing influence. Now the people at Grangemouth have to deal with the unsettling reality that there really isn’t anyone who has their interests at heart. Seen in isolation one could read events there as being an unfortunate side-effect of the inevitable rise of globalisation. When viewed in the context of these other developments though it becomes clear that, even if the Grangemouth plant is underperforming, for whatever reason, it is the biggest casualty of a long-running process, far from inevitable, which has seen a vital component of our modern life traded shamelessly for the profits of the few.

Depressingly enough it looks as if the SNP’s response to this is to find another private buyer for the plant. Nobody appears to be realistically considering nationalisation, despite the repeated assertions of Grangemouth’s vitality and importance to the Scottish economy. Earlier this month we heard that the Scottish Government is looking into the possibility of buying Prestwick airport. Evidently nationalisation is not as unthinkable a concept here as it is at Westminster. As someone who is not an expert in the global petrochemical industry I do not know either how or if a nationalisation of Grangemouth might be possible-or even desirable. It might be that even if it were possible it would be a mistake-although even if that were the case we would still be left to question why any government would allow a doomed plant’s workforce to be gambled on in this way.

Any one instance of nationalisation would be limited in its impact, but only because the scale of what has gone before it is so immense. Perhaps in time, after the people of Grangemouth have discussed with their families what their future holds, we can talk about the wider political ramifications this needs to have to prevent it from happening in the future. At any rate we have to consider what role an independent Scotland’s government will play in its most essential markets.”



Categories: Commentary, Environmental Justice

Tags: , ,

10 replies

  1. Does the Scottish Government have the power to nationalise Grangemouth, or is that aspect of energy policy reserved?

  2. Good question-not as far as I know, the site and its operations seem to bridge trade and industry, energy (although the wording isn’t specifically ‘energy’ but essentially ‘everything but renewables’-not an insignificant point in the context of this) and possibly employment. I meant to highlight this more as another example of wildly differing expectations between Scotland and Britain.

    I wrote this over lunch today, had I eaten instead I’d have had time to see the PM’s astonishing suggestion that the path to cheaper energy could be to gut existing provision for green energy taxation. But then, again, the opposition to whatever happens there will be led by parties whose acquiescence to nuclear power and shale gas has left them with only the idea of a tax as a policy position.

    All this reminds me of the Philip Roth’s point (I think it was him) about satirising American life: that whatever you put on paper as hyperbole is quickly outdone by reality.

  3. “Depressingly enough it looks as if the SNP’s response to this is to find another private buyer for the plant.”

    Why did you think it was necessary to bring the SNP into this article in such a disparaging manner? A very serious set of studies would have to be carried out to determine not only the financial feasibility of nationalising the works at Grangemouth but also an in depth political study to determine if it would be in the Scottish people’s interest to do so. And if were then shown to be a going proposition where do you think the Scottish Government would get the money to nationalise the Company? The SG is doing all it can within its EXISTING POWERS to find a solution to the problem the best of which currently is to find another private buyer, although an even better one would be for the Labour Party and Unite to come to their senses and start representing their members and electorate properly. At the moment these latter appear to be at the bottom of the list of priorities.

  4. Notice hoe Cameron and his gang bailed out of parliament before the Grangemouth
    emergency question could be asked what a shower of chancers .
    Better Together NO! NO! NEVER .
    We must escape this outdated union and stand on our own two feet,
    as for the English press as always all about England no mention of
    Grangemouth .
    It seems that they have no interest at all in Scotland and I for one hope
    they keep out of it.

    • bearhill

      No mention of Grangemouth in the English press what a lie. For your information Grangemouth is in the following English papers I have seen on 24-10-13.The Independent, The I,The Guardian, The Times and The Yorkshire Post. I do not know about other papers. Any loss of jobs is a serious matter not just to Scotland but the rest of the UK.

      • Did you actually read the article?

        I’m talking about the fact that the print media reflects different political cultures, not just that the biggest industrial closure n Britain in decades has a very low profile in England.

  5. bellacaledonia

    I did read Simon Jones’s article.I had earlier read an article in The Independent news paper (24-10-2013),
    about Grangemouth. The comment by bearhill that the English press made no mention of Grangemouth was untrue. I read both Scots and English news papers. When did bellacaledoniaI last read a quality English news paper?
    With regard to the article. Unfortunately multinationals seem to make their own rules. Grangemouth is at a disadvantage. The plant is old and US Gas is cheaper. Nationalisation to quote Simon Jones “I do not know
    either how or if nationalisation of Grangemouth might be possible or even desirable”.

    • When did Bella last read a quality English newspaper?

      Read ‘British News’ – I quote from two – the Independent and the Guardian.

  6. OMG you are living on another planet! The Berlin wall never fell, or if it did, it was pushed over by westerners desperate to get to the East! As for the “real question”, what about agriculture? There is no more essential service than growing food. Are you really backing collectivisation?? There is nothing wrong with the profit motive. It gave us Silicon Valley and the Clyde shipyards for that matter. It’s also giving us ever cheaper solar panels, more efficient wind turbines and power management systems to run an electricity grid on renewables. The problem with Grangemouth is that the world has changed and what is does can now be done more cheaply in the Middle East. It’s questionable whether it can be run profitably. State ownership would just result in the government keeping alive a zombie that shouldn’t be there and may well breach EU state aid rules. There is no easy answer, and sooner or later a painful decision will have to be made, which is why the politicians are running for the hills. Politicians in Westminster will never do it because decisions like that killed the Tories in Scotland. Only a Scottish government can have the political capital necessary to do it, and then only when the independence question has been settled, and then only when the cost of Grangemouth and all similar white elephants are being borne by the Scottish taxpayer alone (note the Tories’ recent tax plans for Scotland).

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