Thursday 24 October 2013


I write about the decadence of the British ruling class and then confirmation makes the headlines shortly thereafter. There is nothing I can add about the specifics, except to say this piece by Robin McAlpine is an excellent rundown of what's been happening at Grangemouth, as well as a condemnation of Britain's flexible labour markets - where flexibility is labour's responsibility and capital's rigidity is sacrosanct - and the appalling London centrism of our media and our politics.

I want to make some quick observations.

1) Ineos are the biggest privately-owned company in the UK. According to its corporate website, they enjoy a turnover of some $43bn/year. It also was in line for a £150m bung from the government under its infrastructure guarantee scheme (backed by the taxpayer to the tune of £40bn). This despite moving corporate HQ to Switzerland in a dispute over an unpaid VAT bill. Their feeling of entitlement to public money is not matched by their enthusiasm to meet their obligations, it would seem.

2) The dispute has been long in its gestation. Ineos tried coming for the final salary pension scheme in 2008, using almost identical rhetoric as today. The company claim Grangemouth is unprofitable and losing cash hand over fist. Despite figures claiming to the contrary, they maintain the health indicated by the balance sheet is a trick of accountancy and that major investment is needed for its continued viability. They say this investment (which is part-funded from the public purse anyway) is conditional upon the workforce accepting a significant diminution in pensions, wages and a no-strike deal. Their reason for playing hardball with the workers is not that the union is being irresponsible or "refusing to see reality" (reality is largely determined by the billionaire Ineos founder, Jim Ratcliffe, who happens to own two-thirds of its shares), it's because their opposition goes right to the heart of the business model the company operates with.

3) The political response from the SNP has been less than stellar. Criticising Ineos's appalling behaviour is one thing, but calling on them to sell Grangemouth to someone else who'll make a go of it merely kicks the problem into the long grass. The issue isn't that one company is nasty and that there are nicer ones out there, it's a matter of private ownership. The question Grangemouth raises is whether one man - Jim Ratcliffe - without any accountability whatsoever should have the right to close a strategic sector of the Scottish economy. I'm guessing most people's answer would be "no".

4) This could effect the politics of next autumn's independence referendum. Dave's speedy retreat from the Commons just as an urgent question was put down yesterday after PMQs says all you need to know about the government's response. Put plainly, the Westminster Bubble doesn't care. As far as they're concerned, not only is it somewhere no Tory will ever be elected, it's purely a matter for Ineos and its employees. Also, as inadequate as the SNP response is the Scottish government has only so many powers - I don't think outright nationalisation is among them. An uncaring national government and a relatively powerless devolved administration are just the pick-me-ups the floundering Yes campaign needs.

5) Crisis and opportunity are twins, and Labour has so far had very little to say about it. This cannot continue. Ed Miliband has a reputation for picking fights with the powerful - his brother, Murdoch, The Mail, Energy Companies. But this is a different kettle of fish. Criticising Ineos, attacking the unaccountable economic power Jim Ratcliffe has necessarily means impinging on the private ownership of industry. And that's before you even start talking about solutions. Yet that is what the situation demands. Will Ed grasp the nettle?

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Anonymous said...

Honestly, I know not of one buisnessman or company that has refused to make money, or walk away from an enteprise that makes money. Lots of hyperbole in your comment (insinuating that a private buisness is somehow required to keep loss making part of the company running because people have jobs is bonkers and is totally irrelevent tbh)


"The question Grangemouth raises is whether one man - Jim Ratcliffe - without any accountability whatsoever should have the right to close a strategic sector of the Scottish economy. I'm guessing most people's answer would be "no".

Why should the powers that be, unions, etc force someone to lose money? Sounds like you want communism.

The fact are that the operation is a loss making excersice. And would continue to be pretty much regardless.

I hope it gets nationalised, continues to lose money hand over fist, further crippling the Scottish economy and then when its finally shut down (As it should have been long ago) it stays there, like a magnificent monument to industrial folly. Because i guarentee you, the state (Scotland) will not be able to return the facility to green field status. It would cost far, far to much.

I don't expect you to host this comment either.

Regards, Anon

Anonymous said...

Loss making. Un cooperative unions. Why would anyone else want the place? You cant buck the market long term, and the market is international. Perhaps the lemmings of Unite may want to run it at loss from their funds. Anyway they should at least refund members subs out of decency

Anonymous said...

Reality 1 Unite King Canutes nil

Like it or not it is inescapable that the economic facts of life are Conservative. The market indeed cannot be bucked.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous comments above, I think, highlight the utter debased nature of the system we live under and the kind of self alienation it breeds. Businessmen have the right to make money, what business is it of ours how they run their business? In this rotten system all of that is painfully true.

Yes, what possible business could it be of ours how we keep ourselves warm, how we feed ourselves, how we get shelter etc etc etc. These things are not our concern, leave it to the businessmen, it is their business after all!