Despite (or perhaps because of) the COP26 summit being held in Scotland’s largest city, the democratically elected leader of Scotland isn’t only not leading the event but isn’t even invited. It’s completely absurd.
What strikes me is the disconnect between a Westminster that talks (albeit recently with less enthusiasm) of an equal family of nations while at the same time shutting Scotland out of the running of a highly significant event happening in its own backyard. Apart from it being highly insulting, that seems to me like an own goal. Glasgow has a well deserved reputation for running global events, and whatever comes out of the discussions a city left to do what it does best would have been a win/win: Glasgow’s reputation gets enhanced and London wallows in the aftermath and spins it an example of successful unionism.
Instead they try to run the thing themselves and park their union flags in George Square. I think this reveals a few things, not least a deep insecurity and a lack of ideas. It also confirms the suspicion that, for Westminster, “England” and “Britain” are interchangeable concepts in which devolution is ideologically awkward.
Firstly, the Conservatives of Boris Johnson et al aren’t unionists in the way previous generations understood the word. Conservative means keeping things broadly the same while unionist means mutual respect and equality. Yet this government rips everything up and grabs back power.
And, secondly, it confirms that Westminster has never, ever, been either interested or tried to understand either devolution or the distinctive nature of Scottish political and civic culture. And you get the impression that devolved competencies are tolerated until they become inconvenience to the whims of the “Big Hoose”. Hence the internal market bill and the reneging of the Northern Ireland Protocol by the same people who championed it barely a year ago yet who happily burn the little political capital and trust they have left to appease the hardline Brexiters whose support keeps them in office.
Power devolved is power retained.
And thirdly I was struck by how disappointed the UK Conservative leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, was last week when the Holyrood Government managed to broker a deal with the rail networks, thus avoiding possible travel chaos during the summit. You’d think – as a Scot, as a unionist – that he’d have been delighted that Glasgow was now in a better position than previously to present the best version of itself to a watching and nervous world, rather than looking like a Free Presbyterian minister who’d just had his scone stolen because Scotland’s first minister had actually done something positive ahead of a major event and had therefore just committed the cardinal sin of revealing that a self-determining modern Scotland would thrive just grand, whilst simultaneously revealing that the entire unionist philosophy – i.e. Scotland is shite – is built on so much sand.
Unlike Scotland’s First Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland was officially invited to Glasgow this week.
He was, amongst other things, asked about a second independence referendum, which he of course rejected on the basis that it would cause uncertainty. Which is quite the brass neck from a champion of a Brexit which the Office of National Statistics states will be twice as economically damaging as Covid.
Now is not the time. Economic uncertainty. How dare we think about constitutional change in the age of a pandemic and an existential crisis?
Well, if we don’t dare, we die.
It isn’t an even / or.
The brave new world of the NHS and the social contract came out of a global conflict – as did closer European integration by the way. But that’s another article.
It’s possible to deal with the current and deal with the future.
I’ve argued before that we we need to agree what kind of Scotland we want to be, and then determine what powers we need to deliver it; rather than limiting ourselves to the Scotland that is possible through the narrow constraints of an eroding and non- permanent devolution settlement that is anything but. And in the week of COP26, what we really need to ask is: ecologically, what does Scotland want? And can we achieve this within the framework of a party we haven’t voted for since 1955 and whose worldview is utterly divergent from our own?
Nothing could possibly sum up better the lack of democratic agency in modern Scotland than the hosting in our largest city of a climate crisis conference in which we aren’t invited.
I read somewhere today that US President Joe Biden’s team had eighty three cars following him to the meeting.
If it’s possible to do that in a pandemic, then it’s surely possible for the Scottish government to call the second plebiscite it was specifically elected to deliver, and to finalise the journey to a normal independent Scotland which can then assume all the powers to deliver the kind of greener, fairer, better, Scotland that is becoming increasingly impossible under the current framework.
It’s up to us people. Let’s get it done.