World consideration has turned to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest metropolis, for the November 2021 UN Climate Change Conference – COP26. For the world leaders and negotiators in attendance, and people watching from a distance, COP26 represents an important check of our collective motion, or inaction, within the face of manifest and worsening local weather change. For the host nation, COP26 implies that and one thing extra. Past the local weather politics, the convention displays Scotland’s uncertainty about its political future and its position on the earth.
Scottish politics is outlined above all by its independence debate. At current, public opinion on the difficulty is fairly evenly split. The Scottish Authorities and the UK Authorities stay engaged in a long-running, although at present dormant, dispute over holding a brand new independence referendum. Observers ought to preserve this context in thoughts when viewing the home optics of COP26. The UK Authorities is the official host of the convention. It holds the COP26 presidency and it’s negotiating on behalf of the UK as an entire. The Scottish Authorities has no direct position within the negotiations, however it’s liable for native infrastructure and logistics — and it’ll search to make its voice heard on local weather change all through the COP nonetheless.
The hosting of COP26 is embedded within the Scottish independence debate. Each governments will use the convention to advertise their differing visions for Scotland’s future: as a continued a part of the UK or as a separate state. London will wish to present that the UK stays a pressure on the earth and that Scottish independence is pointless, if not harmful. Edinburgh will make the case that Scotland would thrive as a European small state which was a part of the EU. These arguments might be weaved, principally subtly, into the 2 governments’ engagements across the COP. The principal goal of those efforts would be the Scottish public, somewhat than conference-goers. In any occasion, UN delegates will undoubtedly be centered on local weather negotiations, not Scottish politics.
The Scottish political class likes to think about Scotland as an internationalist nation. That perception is one purpose why most of it opposed Brexit so emphatically. Earlier than the UK’s 2016 EU membership referendum, solely a small variety of Scottish politicians genuinely wished to depart the EU. But, for all of the curiosity in and enthusiasm for COP26, Scottish political debate on EU and international affairs is basically superficial. Dialogue is commonly lowered to factors for or in opposition to independence, disconnected from the substance of worldwide occasions and Scotland’s relationship to them.
Scottish establishments haven’t any authorized powers on international and defence insurance policies, which stay with London. Nonetheless, a soft-spoken political consensus used to exist that Scotland may interact in European and world affairs to a modest diploma, with out calling its constitutional place into query. The Scottish Authorities has a small international development programme, as an illustration, centered on Malawi, Pakistan, Rwanda and Zambia.
That consensus was shattered by the realisation of Brexit (which the Scottish voters did not support within the 2016 referendum). Now, the Scottish Authorities’s interactions with the surface world are more and more considered, by each side of the argument, as merely an extension of the independence debate. The federal government’s opening of consultant places of work in numerous EU member states has been a specific level of competition. Seemingly unconcerned by these divisions, the Scottish Authorities, run by the pro-independence Scottish Nationwide Get together, aims to increase its world profile even additional. Local weather diplomacy is a precedence space. It desires Scotland to be generally known as bold and progressive on addressing local weather change.
The Scottish goal to realize net-zero carbon emissions is 2045, which is 5 years forward of London’s 2050 goal. The Scottish Authorities even revealed its personal Nationally Determined Contribution (a local weather motion plan), as if it had been a signatory to the Paris Settlement in its personal proper. The total image is extra blended. Scotland has lengthy been an exporter of fossil fuels, within the type of North Sea oil and gasoline. It has missed its last three annual emissions discount targets. Prematurely of COP26, the Scottish media chronicled ongoing environmental issues throughout Scotland, together with polluted rivers, poor air quality and weak energy efficiency ratings of COP26 venues.
Furthermore, the Scottish Authorities is in a clumsy place. The signature UN local weather change convention is being held in Scotland, however it isn’t a part of the negotiations. It’s difficult to point out local weather management from convention fringe occasions. In time, COP26 could also be remembered as a hit or a failure in going through local weather change — and it may affect Glasgow’s and Scotland’s reputations accordingly. Both method, the Scottish Authorities has little energy to form the negotiations or their final result.
As a substitute, the UK Authorities is the president of COP26. It’s liable for the convention, and it’ll obtain the plaudits if a considerable final result is achieved. London can also be involved with extra than simply local weather politics. Sustaining public support in Scotland for the British union, and in opposition to Scottish independence, is one in all its central objectives. It definitely selected Glasgow because the host metropolis for COP26 to reveal what it considers to be the UK’s worldwide power and status to Scottish voters.
All through the convention proceedings, the independence debate won’t ever be distant for the native viewers. The assorted conferences, picture ops, and facet occasions of the Scottish Authorities and the UK Authorities might be scrutinised for coups and snubs that may someway be related again to the constitutional query. Some supporters of independence see COP26 as a possibility to advertise their trigger to a world viewers. Nevertheless, if the world seems to be to Glasgow for local weather motion, and finds that Scotland is as an alternative speaking about itself, that may hardly be an excellent picture for the host.
Scotland could also be an internationalist nation, however additionally it is profoundly uncertain of its political future. It may stay a constituent of the UK, an ex-member of the EU with a distant relationship to the bloc. It may develop into an unbiased state, doubtless as a more normal EU member dedicated to the European challenge. That debate on Scotland’s future will proceed for a while. Alongside its world significance, COP26 exposes the deep divisions which form Scottish politics. Whether or not on local weather change or wider points, the lingering query stays: How a lot can Scotland meaningfully contribute to world debates when it’s so undecided by itself position on the earth?