Scotland’s role in the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow has been strengthened by the backlash to reports that the UK government was working to sideline First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the event.
Messages have been leaked from advisers from No 10 and the Westminster Cabinet Office outlining their plan to downplay Ms Sturgeon's role at the historic climate change conference in November. Their fears that the event, which will focus world attention on the climate crisis, will become an ‘advert’ for independence have been made to look petty and ridiculous.
The revelations coincide with what has been called a ‘fortnight of showdowns’ the UK government faces with peers over its post-Brexit green protections widely derided as being too weak.
The notes also reveal a determined effort to ensure that the Union flag is displayed as much as possible at the summit
The advisers’ messages suggest that Boris Johnson should "neutralise" the First Minster by not sharing a platform with her at the event and including other devolved leaders where possible . One message referred to Sturgeon and said: "This can be labelled as a role for her [as one of the UK's leaders] but avoids her taking centre stage."
Another said: "We can't let this be used as an advert for an independence campaign." The notes also reveal a determined effort to ensure that the Union flag is displayed as much as possible at the summit.
The irony of the UK government’s messages will not be lost on observers. While complaining about the First Minister’s ‘obsession’ with independence they suggest that public statements tied to the summit should focus on Glasgow as a city in the UK, and that mentions of Scotland should refer to its place within the United Kingdom wherever possible.
The First Minister responded on social media, tweeting: "All that matters is that COP26 delivers an outcome to meet the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
"We must work together and maximise contributions towards that. Anyone – me or PM – who allowed politics to get in way would be abdicating that responsibility."
A UK government spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has been clear that there is a role for all the First Ministers from across the UK at COP26 and we are working together with the Scottish Government to ensure this crucial summit is a success." Which is not exactly a denial of the story.
There was no mention of Boris Johnson’s previously revealed statement that he ‘didn’t mind seeing a Saltire or two on that summit, but I want to see a Union flag – I don’t want to see Nicola Sturgeon anywhere near it."
The Prime Minister refused to meet the First Minister to discuss COP26 during his ill-fated trip to Scotland last month. Reports now suggest this was a deliberate decision as part of the wider effort to frame COP26 and green investment as a “UK win”.
The UK government is now facing tough challenges to its post-Brexit green protections. An alliance of crossbench and opposition peers has tabled more than 100 amendments to the environment bill in an attempt to beef up protections for nature, air quality and water standards and give the new green watchdog more powers.
UK ministers may be in the position of arguing in favour of reduced domestic environmental standards while trying to claim a global leadership role before the Glasgow climate conference.
They are also in an embarrassing position as more than 200 health journals worldwide today publish an editorial calling on world leaders to take emergency action on climate change and protect health.
The British Medical Journal said it is the first time so many journals have come together to make the same statement. The editorial says that ahead of COP26 “we – the editors of health journals worldwide – call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.
The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C and to restore nature
“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.’
It adds: “The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C and to restore nature. Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world.'
Dr Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the BMJ and one of the co-authors of the editorial, said: “Health professionals have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis and they are united in warning that going above 1.5C and allowing the continued destruction of nature will bring the next, far deadlier crisis.’