LETTER FROM SCOTLAND 25TH OCTOBER 2013

How long will we continue to see the night sky like this above Grangemouth?

Little did they think it would end like this. The 665 workers at Grangemouth who voted to reject a cut in their pay and pensions thought refinery owner Jim Ratcliffe would back down. Mr Ratcliffe thought he could frighten the workforce into supporting his “rescue plan.” The workers were wrong and Mr R was right and both sides appear as surprised as each other. They are now, as I write, picking up the pieces.

Grangemouth - still in danger
Grangemouth – still in danger
The Unite union was left with the choice of accepting a cut in their members’ £50,000 average pay and their final-salary pensions or watching the refinery and petrochemical plant close. And Mr Ratcliffe is left with the task of making the plant viable. He has now reduced the workforce and the Scottish and UK governments to the role of supplicants. But even with a reduced wage bill and a large government guarantee he still has to find £300m to re-tool the complex to handle non-North Sea gas.

Little did any of us think that a dispute that began over how much time a shop steward was allegedly spending on Labour Party business would end up with Scotland’s largest industrial site coming to the point of meltdown. The whole affair has shown us how fragile Scotland’s manufacturing economy really is and how dependent we are on the dwindling resources of the North Sea.

Here is another “little-did-we-think” – the Dunfermline by-election! Who could have imagined that one of our MSPs would end up in jail for assaulting three of his wives? Convict Bill Walker even tried to hold on to his job, on a technicality, and blamed the media for his downfall. To their credit, the outraged people of Dunfermline managed to keep the heid through a low-key by-election campaign and have, understandably, chosen a woman to be their new champion, Labour’s Cara Hilton. She beat the SNP by nearly 3,000 votes on a 42 per cent turnout.

Another energy firm pushed up prices
Another energy firm pushed up prices
Little do we think when we step out onto the pavement that we are putting our lives in danger. But apparently, Scotland is the most dangerous place in Europe for pedestrians. Last year 57 were killed. According to the campaign Living Streets, pedestrians now account for 68 per cent of all road deaths in built up areas – the European average is 37 per cent.

Energy prices continued to be a talking point this week, with Scottish Power becoming the latest utility company to increase its prices. It joins SSE, Scottish Gas and Npower in putting up their bills by between 8 and 10 per cent. The political parties have been competing with each other to address this “cost of living” issue. The UK government has talked of reviewing the green taxes which comprise around 10 per cent of all household bills. The SNP have said they would, in an independent Scotland, abolish the green taxes and instead fund renewable energy from general taxation. Labour has said it would freeze charges for 20 months. Little did I think a month ago that anything would knock unemployment off the top of the political agenda.

A hapless administrator at Edinburgh University began the week by posting off the latest grant to its Students’ Association with a new clause in the small print. Little did he think (and I guess a women would not make the same mistake) that it could cause such a stir. But the new clause insisted that the association should not make any “detrimental” remarks about the university without 48 hours notice to the management. What sort of pigeon-post, pre-democratic media world was this man living in? As soon as the story hit the newspapers, it took the university less than 48 hours to change its mind. And I expect the administrator has been ducked in the fountain and hung out to dry.

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson
Little did a tough little Clydesider think he would one day become manager of Aberdeen Football Club, let alone the 38 trophy manager of Manchester United. But this week Sir Alex Ferguson told us all about his rise to power in his autobiography. He revealed that he had twice been asked to be manager of England’s football team and he had got rid of David Beckham because he’d become too big for his boots after his marriage to some posh popstar.

Finally, little did the people of Dingwall think that beneath a car park in the centre of town there was once a “Thing”. No, not a ghost or a monster but an 11th century Viking parliament. Archaeologists say they’ve found evidence that Thorfinn the Mighty could have called his troops together at this site in the summer of 1040 before joining Macbeth in his rebellion against King Duncan I. And that, by the way, has had a pretty bad write up.

It’s been a week when we Scots have been reminded of two old Norse proverbs: “Let none put faith in the first fruit sown,” and “You don’t have to put out the fire when all is ash.”