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Nicola Sturgeon wants to be judged on her record - it's about time we did

Nicola Sturgeon at COP26 in Glasgow | Credit: Alamy

Nicola Sturgeon wants to be judged on her record - it's about time we did

Nicola Sturgeon likes nothing more than to lay claim to global firsts. And in April 2019, it was no different when she, rather grandiosely, declared a climate emergency – making her government the first in the world to do so. 

And to rapturous applause – what else would you expect – at her party’s spring conference, she pledged that if the UK’s Climate Change Committee, the statutory body established to advise and assess government’s climate-change targets, recommended more urgent action to cut CO2 emissions then her government would act.

She said the country would continue to “lead by example” as she proclaimed that her government’s obligations to the next generation are “the most important we carry”.

But two weeks ago, ironically almost exactly a year on since Glasgow hosted COP26, when the eyes of the world were upon us and Sturgeon was determined to take centre stage as the new Queen of Green, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) gave its withering assessment of the first minister’s promises to go further, faster, and better.  

And to paraphrase Greta Thunberg, it’s all been a bit ‘blah, blah, blah’.

In an unusually damning report, the CCC concluded that Sturgeon’s government’s progress in meeting its own ambitious targets on carbon emissions are “in danger of becoming meaningless” as a consequence of its own “magical thinking”. 

And this is in all areas where the powers to act are fully devolved.

Its chair, Lord Deben, aka John Selwyn Gummer, the former Conservative secretary of state for the environment, who is perhaps still most famous for being the minister that publicly fed his daughter a beefburger in an attempt to diffuse the hysteria at the height of the so-called ‘mad cow disease’ epidemic in 1990, was clearly at the end of his tether.

The reality is that despite the first minister’s warm words on climate change, and with Greens now in government, Scotland is falling way behind on its own ambitions.

He expressed his frustration over the disconnect between the Scottish Government’s ambitions on climate change and the fact that it had missed so many of its own legally set targets. He starkly set out that we are in the last moments to save the planet and that this was “a trumpet call to Scotland to resume its leadership”.

He said that the Scottish Government lacked a clear delivery plan and gave no explanation as to how it can meet the targets that it set. Most damagingly for Sturgeon, he said the blame could only be placed at her own door. 

“We have to say in almost every way, instead of leading the UK, which it did, it is now not, and where it is failing most are in the areas where powers are entirely devolved and it is also true in some of the areas where it is finding success, they are in areas which are controlled by Westminster.”

For the nat-eratti, Deben can just be dismissed as yet another Tory crank and his criticism nothing more than red meat for more nationalist grievance, but to the rest of the world, his environmental credentials, and his absolute belief in the need for evidence and for the appliance of science for which he was prepared to gamble with his own daughter’s wellbeing, are impeccable. BBC Wildlife Magazine has described him as the “Environment Secretary against which all others are judged” and Friends of the Earth as “the best Environment Secretary we have ever had”.

And so, the reality is that despite the first minister’s warm words on climate change, and with Greens now in government, Scotland is falling way behind on its own ambitions. And is in danger of being taken to court.

Yet the newly installed Green minister, Lorna Slater, who despite her Green party membership has clearly well and truly drunk the SNP Kool-Aid, having already had to apologise for the repeated government lie about offshore wind production, has now responded to the grim assessment in the CCC progress report by suggesting that banning domestic flights within the UK where there are alternative rail routes of less than 2.5 hours could be an option. ‘Vive la France’, as they might say in the country where this is a recently announced policy.

But by any generous calculation, this would cover exactly four aviation routes in the UK – all in England – and might, at a pinch, save three per cent of domestic aviation emissions. Just doing the simple maths exposes this for what it is – a dead cat thrown on the table to deflect from the failings within the government to which she now belongs.

Domestic aviation emissions account for 10 per cent of total aviation emissions. And total UK aviation emissions are only seven per cent of overall UK emissions so the Green minister is suggesting a saving there of 0.021 per cent of total UK emissions, at a generous estimate, NONE of which would be in Scotland.

This is yet more unevidenced magical thinking and blaming the UK Government to detract from things Scottish ministers have control over – in this case, ducking the lack of Scottish Government support for high-speed rail routes and its unwillingness to increase Scottish Air Passenger Duty, a tax they fully control, by offering a bit of French whataboutery. And incredibly, with a Green MSP willingly acting as the SNP’s shield.

Publicly, the Scottish Government has resorted, as it would, to blaming all its climate change failings on Westminster. Privately, senior civil servants were dispatched to point out to the CCC the various internal policy ideas that have still to be announced. To which I assume the revered members of the CCC pointed out that its job is to mark on reality and not on hopes and dreams.

And that’s the point – in too many areas of policy, be it education, health, justice, and the economy – warm words, grand gestures, and colorful rhetoric may all sound good but without action to match the words, they are meaningless.

And on the most encompassing policy of all, the one that could save the planet, ambitions have now been proven to not be enough. 

Scotland’s first minister makes a habit of being asked to be judged on her record. But with successive polls showing no dent in support for her party or for independence, perhaps the most impressive sorcery of all is Sturgeon’s ability to bewitch an electorate into not believing in what is clear for all to see.

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