According to a recent article in the Daily Mail, a vile and frothing right wing British nationalist nightmare of a publication whose sole saving grace is that it is not quite as unhinged as the Express (although there’s not much in it), the paper was informed by a senior Tory MP that he Conservatives had three objectives for the COP26 summit. “Save the planet. Save the country. And stop Sturgeon from getting a photo with Biden.”
Interestingly this report failed to make it into the paper’s Scottish edition, although it was prominent in its English edition. It’s almost as though British nationalists are afraid of Scotland finding out what they really think about this (checks notes) much loved partner in a family of nations.
It’s in everyone’s interests to save the planet, but the cracks are already showing in what has been hailed by the British press as Johnson’s great achievement of a deal to halt and reverse deforestation. Leaders of over 100 countries representing about 85% of the world’s forests have committed to halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030. However Indonesia, home to one of the world’s last remaining great rain forests which is plagued by illegal logging and the destruction of pristine environments for palm oil plantations, decried the deal as “unfair” despite the fact that the country is one of the signatories to the deal.
The Conservative objective of preventing the Scottish First Minister from getting a photo with the American president has already gone the way of the deforested parts of the Amazon basin. Biden met with Nicola Sturgeon and presented her with a glass bowl as a gift to the people of Scotland from the USA. The Conservatives were desperate not to give the Scottish Government any official role in the COP26 proceedings leading to the shameful result that the country which is the location for a meeting which is devoted to measures to combat climate change and promote climate justice – which crucially depends upon the affected communities having agency to make the changes they require – having no voice, no representation, and no agency. Biden’s meeting with Sturgeon was an implicit recognition that she is the head of the country which is de facto if not de jure, the host of COP26, a country which moreover seeks to achieve independence and which the USA wishes to stay on good terms with.
The injustice being perpetrated against Scotland has not gone unnoticed by delegates to the conference, many of whom represent countries which have had their own struggles for independence and their own issues with British misrule. Although she was denied an official role by Johnson, the Scottish First minister made good use of the opportunity to meet with other national leaders and although Scottish independence was not on the agenda for discussion, none of them would have been left in any doubt that independence for Scotland is what she stands for and that she aspires to lead an independent Scotland which will be an honest, co-operative and constructive partner with other nations. There was no need to explicitly spell out the contrast that would make with a British nationalist Brexit Britain led by Boris Johnson. The rest of the world can see it for themselves.
Johnson could have far more effectively undercut pro-independence arguments by giving the Scottish Government a prominent offcial role at COP26, then the Tories could claim that Scotland was enjoying a disproportionate degree of international influence thanks to being a part of the UK. But Johnson and the Conservatives were too vain, insecure, and stupid for that. Instead they tried to cut Scotland out entirely, leading to Scotland being deprived of representation in its own right at a global conference which is taking place in Scotland. All that Johnson has achieved is to make it clear that the only way Scotland can have a voice on the global stage is as an independent nation.
One delegate from the Pacific islands, Joseph Sikulu, speaking on BBC Scotland’s debate night said that climate justice is about self determination and agency. However he had learned from his time in Glasgow that as part of the UK Scotland lacks that agency. He said “[Climate justice] is about our ability to decide what happens to our people into our country. And I’ve learned this a lot being in Glasgow because I have felt the frustration of the people here about COP being here but they have no representation.”
He went on to draw a parallel between the struggles for decolonialisation in the Pacific and modern Scotland, saying : “You have this broader relationship with colonisation, which is what we have, which is what we have, what we carry. And so kind of justice isn’t just about shifting the fossil fuel industry. It’s about shifting the structures of oppression so that we can continue to build our lives in a way that makes sense to us and I know the people of Scotland understand that.”
Equally, ever since Brexit what is left of the UK’s international reputation has gone into free fall. We have a British Government which openly trashes the deals it has struck with other governments, Indeed, one of Johnson’s former senior advisors, Dominic Cummings, a man who looks like Frodo if he’d decided to keep the ring, recently boasted that “cheating foreigners” was one of the most important parts of the job for a British Prime Minister. Both France and Ireland are complaining about the UK’s bad faith and the failure of the British Government to adhere to the terms of the Brexit deal which it struck with the EU.
The world can see what the Conservatives are doing. They can see the corruption and the sleaze, they can see Johnson’s attempts to neuter any independent scrutiny of his government of chancers, charlatans, and sleazebags. They can see that Brexit Britain cannot be trusted to keep its word. They can see the death of democracy in a state which was once a by-word for probity in government.
During the next independence referendum campaign the UK is going to find it very difficult to rustle up world and European leaders to do it a favour and speak out against Scottish independence. That was a very useful tactic in 2014 which produced scores of gleeful headlines in the British press and which were trumpeted by the BBC. That bowl that Biden presented to the First Minister was so Scotland can use it to hold the popcorn as we enjoy the discomfort of the friendless British Government during the next independence referendum campaign.
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