Like one of the flares that constantly lights up the sky above it, the dispute at the Grangemouth refinery has burned furiously over the last few days without producing much in the way of facts.
The announcement yesterday that the petrochemical plant is now shut and will remain shut has done little to change that situation, with the owners Ineos and the union Unite putting forward entirely different explanations for the shutdown.
Whoever is right, a solution must now be found and found quickly. Grangemouth is not only a critical component in the industrial infrastructure that provides fuel and energy to Scots, it is also a linchpin of the economy. Around 80% of Scotland's fuel is processed at the refinery and it stocks around 70% of filling stations. In all, it handles around 10% of the country's GDP. Its importance to the economy is hard to over-estimate.
For that reason, it is regrettable that a dispute over a member of staff who was involved in the Falkirk Labour voting affair - which the party has long since rectified - has been allowed to escalate to the point where the refinery has been shut and its long-term future would appear to be at risk.
Exactly why this shutdown has happened is unclear, with both Ineos and Unite offering competing explanations. Ineos says it had no choice but to begin a shutdown in the face of the threat of industrial action and it is true that the owners of a plant such as Grangemouth have a duty to close it down for safety and technical reasons if a full complement of staff is not available to run it.
However, the union Unite suspects there is an ulterior motive at work and claims Ineos has seized its opportunity to shut down the refinery so it can jettison the loss-making elements. Certainly, the company has been claiming for a long time that there will have to be serious reform at the refinery if it is to have a future. Without investment and a new source of raw materials, it says, the plant will close down for good by 2017.
However, if such decisions need to be made - with Ineos, in its own words, claiming to be financially distressed - the current crisis at the refinery is no way to go about them. Grangemouth is far too important to Scots and the Scottish economy for it to be a pawn in a dispute that has got out of hand or for it to become the victim of brinkmanship.
The governments at Westminster and Holyrood insist they have alternative fuel supply routes in place should the worst come to the worst, but this does not address the longer-term problem. The intricacies of the industrial dispute will have to be fixed first and foremost, but this is also an opportunity for all parties, including the Scottish government, to secure the future of the refinery.
Whatever the way forward -it may be, for instance, that the Scottish Government will have to put up regional selective assistance to help Ineos access new gas supplies - the refinery at Grangemouth is too important to lose. It has supplied fuel to Scotland for 90 years. Its future must be secured.
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