Scotland’s First Minister has waded into the Grangemouth refinery row by pleading with the two sides to get back to the negotiating table. Staff are due to strike at the Scottish refinery next week, and owners INEOS have started shutting down the site in preparation for the industrial action. The resulting fear of fuel shortages is causing many motorists

to panic buy – and there are already reports of fuel rationing and shortages.

Alex Salmond told the SNP’s Spring Conference: “Now we have an impasse between management and unions at Grangemouth, threatening the disruption of fuel supplies. Let our message – Scotland’s message – be crystal clear. Both sides should stop debating with each other over the airwaves, return to the negotiating table, and stay there until they resolve their differences.”

The plea came as up to 1,200 UNITE union members at the refinery prepared to strike on 27th and 28th April. INEOS said that because of safety issues, the strike would effectively close the plant – which produces 9m litres of clean fuels per day and is Scotland’s only crude oil refinery – for a month.

Meanwhile, drivers were facing rationing on fuel spending yesterday as motorists flocked to the forecourts to panic buy fuel. Forecourt queues were reported all over Scotland.

At least one petrol station resorted to rationing fuel in a bid to avert fuel shortages. Site owner Chris Furphy imposed the maximum spend of £20 per car at his Jet site, Mount Blow service station, in Dalmuir, Clydebank in a bid to avoid running out. Maureen Garth, a cashier at the site, said the forecourt had run out of petrol after rationing fuel at the weekend. She said: “We had to ration it because we wanted to make sure our regular customers were able to get some petrol – we thought it was only fair that everybody got a chance. We had unleaded until last night, but then that ran out and left us with just diesel. You wouldn’t believe the abuse we’ve taken over the last couple of days though, it’s been horrible. I never knew there were so many awful people about.

“I think most of the sites around here have totally run out of fuel, a couple seem to be closed because they didn’t introduce the rationing.”

Meanwhile, campaigners were reported to still be secretly planning protests across the UK over rising fuel price rises.