The Grangemouth dispute: how can a single refinery shatter Scotland’s independence dream?


A la veille du référendum de 2014 sur l’indépendance, la menace de fermeture de l’unique raffinerie d’Ecosse à Grangemouth pourrait remettre en cause tout le processus d’indépendance engagé par le parti nationaliste écossais.


For some Scots, Scotland’s independence is an essential political goal. Their dream is to see Scotland become once again an independent sovereign state. It is supported most prominently by the Scottish National Party (the SNP, a nationalist party). Seventy-two (out of 129) of the seats in the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood , are currently held by members who are pro-independence.

Historically the independence movement re-emerged in the 1970s . Indeed, in 1975 , the discovery of significant oil reserves in the North Sea, “Scotland’s oil”, made it possible for the independence movement to foresee complete economic autonomy from the United Kingdom. In 1979, a devolution that is to say a decentralization of powers from the central government to the Scottish government, was proposed by referendum but a minority of Scottish people approved the reform. The SNP finally gained momentum in 2006 with its parliamentary victory against the Scottish Labour Party which had led the country for half a century.

A national referendum is to be held in Scotland on 18 September 2014 to decide whether or not Scotland is to become an independent country. But while the independence process seems to be finally engaged, recent events in Grangemouth seem to challenge the dream of Scottish independence.


What exactly happened?

As the result of ten years of labour conflict, Ineos, a Swiss chemical firm, announced on October 23rd it would close the chemical complex next to its oil refinery in Grangemouth. Faced with important losses and global competition, the firm wants to invest £300m in a massive modernization of the site to reduce its production costs. But according to the management, such a project has to be followed by cuts in labour costs; otherwise it would not be economic. As the petrochemical shutdown concerned directly 800 jobs and threatened the refinery itself, the union eventually accepted the plan on October 25th.


More than an economic disaster for the region, the possibility of the shutdown impacts something else: the very idea of Scottish independence.

How could the Grangemouth situation jeopardize the independence project?

As Grangemouth is the sole refinery in all of Scotland and adds £1 billion a year to the Scottish economy, the Scottish National Party has always considered it as the key economic argument in the case for independence. For months “It’s Scotland’s oil” was one of the most popular political slogans in the country. If Scotland were to become independent, the distribution of territorial waters would give the new state 90% of the North Sea oil reserves and could generate more than £54 billion in the five next years.

Thus, a shutdown would have terrible consequences for the nationalists: if Grangemouth disappears, where will the crude be stocked and refined? In the UK. Concerning the infrastructures, the United Kingdom would thus be eventually indivisible.

Grangemouth is therefore a name that Alex Salmond, the Scottish PM can expect to hear a lot more about: it seriously undermines the belief in Scotland’s ability to make its way through the global economy and the international community. Because actually, what is an oil-producing country without refinery capacities? A nonsense.



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