UPDATE 1-Future for Grangemouth plant certain- Scottish minister

Friday, 25 Oct 2013 | 5:20 AM ET

LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Prospects for an agreement to save the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical plant have strengthened after the union agreed to a three-year no-strike deal, Scotland's top minister said on Friday.

"I would now be very hopeful indeed that there will be a change in position from Ineos, and I'm absolutely certain there's a future for chemicals in Grangemouth," First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond told BBC Scotland in a radio interview.

Operator Ineos has said losses would force it to close the petrochemical plant and could also force the closure of the 210,000 barrel per day refinery.

Around 1,400 jobs at the site are at risk, and its closure would deal a severe blow to the Scottish economy.

It would also be a setback for Salmond's Scottish National Party, which is leading the campaign for Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister David Cameron also has called on all sides to reach agreement.

Scotland will vote on whether to become independent in a referendum in September next year. Many Scots polled on the issue have said their biggest concern will be the likely impact a separation would have on the economy.

The union has agreed to forego strike action for three years in a bid to persuade the company to restart both plants, Salmond and a union source said.

A closure of the refinery, which provides power for a major oil pipeline, could also reduce supplies of the major North Sea crude that underpins the Brent oil benchmark, used as a basis for setting oil prices around the world.

Ineos is expected to tell workers and make a statement later on Friday on whether it accepts the union's offer and will save the plant.

Ineos halted production last week at the refinery, which provides 70 percent of Scotland's fuel, due to the dispute with Unite, Britain's largest union.