Margo MacDonald: Sensible socialism’s time almost with us

Grangemouth power games were afoot, with workers right in the middle. Picture: Getty
Grangemouth power games were afoot, with workers right in the middle. Picture: Getty
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So, what are the lessons to be learned from the averted catastrophe at Grangemouth?

Firstly, I suggest, is the unwisdom of having one man with the total executive power over a process and plant that is such a major part of the strategic industrial framework of Scotland. Secondly, future Scottish governments, when faced with such potentially destructive decisions being taken by companies or individuals with diametrically opposite interests or values, should not hesitate to take the operation into public ownership.

The idea is not to build up an impressive portfolio of nationalised or community-owned property. It is to give the people who had run the companies enough time to regroup, restructure, downsize or instigate a fundamental staff retraining programme. While this is taking place, a team from the appropriate Scottish Government department would be researching the market for a compatible partner to work with, so that, when the political and diplomatic rows have been settled, a new company will be in place.

While I wouldn’t generally take issue with the proposition that cutting-edge companies are usually run by cut-throat capitalists rather than loved-up lefties, nowadays I would insist on the public interest being represented on the boards of companies judged to be strategically important to the economy or employment prospects in a particular geographical location. This idea of having the public interest represented in the decision-making machinery of industry is a factor of how communities preserve their priorities and distinctiveness in the face of the unstoppable force of global capitalism.

And in what circumstances would such a government acquisition take place? Would it apply to companies once they had reached a certain number of employees, or posted notice of huge profits? No, if at all possible, companies will make the decision for themselves, before they experience the near-miss of company collapse, markets movements and cash shortage, as workers management and trade unions did in Grangemouth.

I think it was a triumph for Scottish sense, democracy and in the end, pragmatic industrial relations between Unite and the high-handed owner. Others disagree and cite the union’s ineffectiveness in keeping the show on the road. It’s probably true that Unite made a couple of wrong moves, and the price exacted by the company is one of the highest on record, but where there’s life there’s hope. Unite can now get its act together without having to crisis manage thousands of people on the dole.

But if Scotland is going into the new markets of China, India and South America, we’re kidding ourselves that our exporters will only encounter politics-free capitalists out to make big bucks. Many of the host companies given the green light to trade in China and India will have very short connections to their governments. So to start the process, any companies must know what they’re hoping to achieve and agree this with their public interest representative.

We have to put the 70s and 80s in the box marked “history”. Remember that some of the criticisms of trade unionists came from right wingers with agendas that included even more power shifting to the haves and away from the have-nots. These days are past now, thank goodness, and the world is ready for sensible socialism.

Royal Family part of new Scotland

Regular readers will know that I’m a lukewarm loyal subject of Her Majesty, and that philosophically and intellectually I’m in favour of republicanism rather than monarchy. My argument rests on the democratic belief that no one person is worth more than the next. But that might be too crude a way to determine who should have dominion over his or her fellow-citizens.

That we need such a leader/figurehead is unquestionable although it does not imply that the leader, whether unelected or elected, has to hold onto the job till death.

Presidents can be elected for one year only, like the moderator of the Church of Scotland. So for mere mortals, even those gifted or whose goodness is touched by angels, competition and popular franchises are to be expected when leadership is sought or offered. But you couldn’t really envisage the Royal Family putting up against a collective of call-centre workers. So there’s no way to dodge it: either we sign up to Elizabeth or we go republican.

Looking at the charming christening pictures, I was pretty well resigned to having a monarchy in our new sovereign Scotland.

I have the notion that this generation of royals will resemble the bicycling blue bloods of the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.

Captain courage

Although Darren Fletcher plays for one of my least favourite teams, Manchester United, his courage

and stoicism in coping with his bowel condition make him an inspirational captain for Scotland.