Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 15:47 UK

'Scotland can cope' with dispute

Grangemouth refinery

First Minister Alex Salmond has insisted "Scotland can cope" with the strike at Scotland's only oil refinery.

A two-day strike by up to 1,200 workers at the site will go ahead on Sunday and Monday after negotiations between union officials and operator Ineos collapsed.

Speaking during question time at Holyrood, Mr Salmond told opposition leaders fuel supplies were ample.

Labour Leader Wendy Alexander attacked Mr Salmond for running a "special access" government for big business.

The first minister hit out at the criticism, adding: "Just occasionally I think Wendy Alexander would be wise to rise to the events and the occasion which is occupying the people of Scotland."

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said the Grangemouth refinery played a pivotal role in Scotland's economy, and expressed disappointment that talks at the conciliation service Acas broke down.

People want real action from the government, not empty promises that everything is normal
Nicol Stephen
Scottish Lib Dem leader

And she urged Mr Salmond: "Will the first minister join me in sending a message from this Parliament to everyone involved in this dispute - calm down, sit down, get back round the table and in the meantime call this strike off."

He said the sentiment was shared across Scotland, as he urged those involved in the dispute to get back round the table.

The first minister said there were sufficient fuel stocks to last into May and more could be imported if necessary, telling MSPs: "I think under these circumstances Scotland can cope with this difficulty."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen asked whether Mr Salmond had driven home the case for capping fuel prices, adding: "People want real action from the government, not empty promises that everything is normal.

"People are genuinely worried. What is he doing to stop the rip off and to keep Scotland moving?"

'Special access'

Mr Salmond hit back: "Everyone in this chamber would attack and deprecate profiteering.

"But I hope that people can look at the situation that we face together as a community because the impact of such a dispute will be felt by the entire community."

Re-capping on her recent speech to the STUC, Ms Alexander claimed some people mattered more to the government than others.

"The Trump Organisation, Macdonald Hotels, and Mr Brian Souter all seem to have a special pass to the corridors of power," she said.

"Is the first minister running a special access government?"

Mr Salmond said his government operated in the best interests of the Scottish people, adding: "The people she mentioned have no special access to government."

On the recent decision to extend the First ScotRail contract, he added: "Does Wendy Alexander regret the clear passenger benefits, the 70m of additional investment in Scotland's rail network, the ability to cap the profits, and the ability of extending the franchise on much better terms for the public interest than was negotiated by the last administration?"

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