Disbelief.

Distress. Anger. That is what is left for ­workers at the Ineos ­petrochemical plant in Grangemouth. "I feel sick," said one employee, struggling to get his head round the bombshell announcement that the plant was to close. "That's it. Folk will be lucky if they have a house at Christmas."

Are such concerns for worker welfare keeping Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe awake at night? That seems highly questionable. The conduct of Ineos, painting the union as culpable for the plant's closure and the loss of its members' own jobs, has been at times astonishingly heavy-handed.

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Even the refinery cannot be said to be safe: Mr Ratcliffe has warned that if the petrochemical plant closes it could be the end for the refinery as well.

It may well be that the company can legitimately argue that aspects of the way Grangemouth is run need to be modernised. Some observers of this dispute may have been surprised to learn that a final salary pensions scheme for Grangemouth employees exists, given how many such schemes run by other companies have closed, relatively uncontroversially. However, none of that justifies, or indeed explains, the behaviour of the company, which unions and others understandably find highly suspect.

Consider how this dispute began: over the treatment of one particular union official, Unite convenor Stephen Deans, who was involved in the row over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, where he is chairman of the constituency party. He was suspended and then reinstated and is now facing an internal investigation. Suddenly, however, there was a sharp escalation into a very different dispute about a pay freeze and changes to pensions.

At the same time, it has proved exceptionally difficult to unpick the exact nature of this complex company's financial position. The company has claimed that it is losing £10m a month from the Grangemouth operations and would close in 2017 without new investment and changes to workers' terms and conditions, but its latest accounts show that the petrochemical plant - the part it has decided to close - made a profit of £7m last year. Those same accounts indicate that the company could make decent profits out of the business in the future.

It is true to say that the company has been raising the issue of pensions and pay for quite some time, and indeed was defeated in a dispute with the union five years ago over the pension scheme, but if the prospect of turning a profit from Grangemouth is so drastically challenging as to make closure of part of it the only option, workers may wonder why Ineos acquired it in the first place.

Ineos is the fourth-biggest chemicals company in the world, with 51 manufacturing facilities in 11 countries in North America, Europe and Asia, and it has form when it comes to playing tough in its industrial relations. When it wanted to get staff off the final salary scheme at its Newton Aycliffe plant in County Durham recently, staff were given little choice but to sign up. When the union balloted for strike action, Ineos transferred the workers to a Belgian sister company under TUPE employment rules that do not safeguard pension rights.

Make no mistake: this has been no 1970s style stand-off between recalcitrant workers and their exasperated bosses. It is the company which has shut down the plant. The company's letter to workers proposing changes to pensions and pay, should not have brought the shutters down, but become the reference point for negotiation. Instead, the message was clear, brutal and one-sided: take it or leave it. Mr Ratcliffe's comments made clear that this was an ultimatum. The workers had three days to decide which way to vote. If he didn't get the answer he wanted - capitulation to the company's demands - there would be no "happy ending". He has certainly been true to his word.

The company has said it is to call in liquidators within the next few days, but this story is not over yet.

There were signs late last night that the union has been forced into a climbdown over its previous refusal to bow to the company's demands, raising hopes there may yet be an 11th-hour reprieve.

The Scottish Government is also seeking buyers for the plant and peace has broken out in place of the usual antagonism between Westminster and Scottish ministers as efforts are made to avert the closure of this hugely significant part of the economy.

What happens if government money is put on the table to assist with a sale? Would Ineos itself seek to avail itself of such funding? That would certainly fuel the suspicions of those who suspect this dispute of being calculated. If no buyer can be found, the Scottish Government should reconsider saving Grangemouth as it did Prestwick Airport.

Michael Moore - until recently Scottish Secretary - said closure "would be an act of industrial vandalism" the likes of which had not been seen in decades. Many, far beyond the membership of Unite, will agree. If it shuts for good, it will be Ineos, not the devastated workers, that bears the lion's share of responsibility.