Fumes, Oligarchs and Resilience
Several elements of the Grangemouth spectacle were on the edge of farce this week. MP Eric Joyce complaining that the people of the area “deserved better representation”. Truly. The utter capitulation and ineptness of the union. The callousness and duplicity of Ineos. These are dysfunctional broken systems of governance and representation on all levels.
Now, the spin room is in full cycle.
The Guardian holds that:
The way Grangemouth was saved probably adds to the challenge for the Yes campaign. The crisis was immediately about the many hundreds of jobs dependent on the site. But it was also about energy policy. Grangemouth matters a lot to the UK energy network, but it is absolutely crucial to that of Scotland. Three-quarters of its oil-based fuel passes through the site. So the closure of Grangemouth would have deprived an independent Scotland of the ability to process the North Sea oil and gas that remain central to the nationalist vision of the country’s economic viability. From a nationalist perspective, Grangemouth had to stay open, and there will be much relief that it did. Yet a crucial and perhaps lasting image from this week’s last-ditch bargaining has been the opposite of the one that Mr Salmond would have wanted. On Thursday afternoon, the UK’s Scotland secretary, Alistair Carmichael, and the Scottish government’s finance secretary, John Swinney, gave a joint press conference outside the plant. They spoke as one, both showing their commitment to Grangemouth and both putting their respective governmental heft behind the attempt to restart the plant.
The fix gives stability to the North Sea conduit for decades, a bigger win for Salmond than any short-term PR squeezed out by Alistair Carmichael, who next week (as last) will be part of a team telling you that the industry is doomed and declining. In other words the fact Grangemouth was saved probably adds to the challenge for the No campaign.
But there’s wider lessons too. Quite how a business that was portrayed as a wretched loss-making sump one day popped up as a viable prospect the next is a mystery. Yes the FM pulled some favours with BP, but what it reveals is systems of industrial scale tax-evasion that would make an Ibrox chairman blush.
Keith McLeod at the Record explains that INEOS closed down a business which could have delivered half a billion pounds of profit in the coming years, citing work by accountant Richard Murphy of Fulcrum Chartered Accountants.
All is spin. He says the plant was making a fortune until Ineos apparently set out to make it appear loss-making. Rather than losing money, as the company claimed, the chemical plant at Grangemouth delivered £7million in profits last year.
It’s clear that Ineos used smart accounting techniques to paint a bleaker future for the plant and secure taxpayers’ cash. Murphy said the plant made £6million profit the year before, even after a pension fund shortfall was factored in.
So we can’t have accountability for these robber-barons and we can’t manage transparency either. That stems from the fact that we perceive ourselves beholden to them.
I think there is an odd story in those accounts. The future of this company at the chemical plant could be quite profitable. It could make quite a
lot of money. How do you reconcile that, what’s going on here? They are using accounting rules I don’t recognise. They are using numbers I can’t find in any actual published accounts.
The lessons from Grangemouth (setting aside dependency on a toxically damaging fossil fuels) are surely to move beyond the desperate fire-fighting of defending whole communities dependent on one firm. Or, indeed, an entire economy over-dependent on one fossil fuel?
But the wider and deeper issues that means this can’t be a victory for UK:OK is put simply by Robin McAlpine at Our Kingdom (‘What’s really happening at Grangemouth’):
This is a facility that provides 80 percent of Scotland’s fuel – and it is in the power of one man to close it down at will. It is to the great credit of the Scottish Government that (given its limited powers) it has put pressure on the company, has looked to find a buyer if Ineos won’t agree to operate the plant and has refused to rule out public ownership. While this last course of action is unlikely, it is another sign of the SNP shifting away from the free-market orthodoxy of British politics. This is not a facility (virtually a monopoly industry) about which we can afford to have no views or opinions about ownership. There is now a serious debate in Scotland about whether our key infrastructure is safe in private, often foreign, hands. The behaviour of Ineos has intensified that debate. Britain is in denial about the importance of the ownership of the economy.
Shifting from dependency culture and concentration of power is not just about the constitution, it’s about moving towards democracy in the workplace, transforming industrial relations and environmental justice too.
All the way down the line this is a society based on a single point of failure: over-reliance (aka addiction) to a petro-chemical economy, an unrecoverable Member of Parliament, big business trampling over peoples rights.
So if the next few days offers short-term PR for either side the reality is that independence should be about actually facing-up to our long term energy needs, the reality of our climate crisis, and the need for real economic resilience beyond frantic phone calls to a man on a yacht.