Sturgeon says governments in Edinburgh and London have worked together on Cop26

‘We would be much more powerful as an independent country. Not least, we’d be sitting around the negotiating table at Cop26’

As she prepares to welcome more than 100 world leaders to Glasgow, the city she represents in the Scottish parliament, first minister Nicola Sturgeon is for the time being putting aside her differences with Boris Johnson. Johnson will be hosting the Cop26 climate summit, and Sturgeon says the governments in Edinburgh and London have been working well together.

“I’m not interested in allowing petty political disagreements to stand in the way of our collective efforts to get a good outcome to Cop26. I want to play whatever part I can in contributing to that good outcome. And I’ve made that very clear to the prime minister who I know wants to secure that good outcome as well.

“So I hope we can put whatever differences we have away for the next couple of weeks and just focus on doing what needs to be done,” she told The Irish Times.

The meeting in Glasgow aims to keep alive the target of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees by securing detailed plans from each country for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sturgeon acknowledges that the leaders are going into the summit with big questions still unanswered about how to deliver emissions reductions and how to help poorer countries to fund the changes necessary.


“I think there is a big, big challenge confronting this summit. But a big responsibility to make sure that it succeeds. It is easy to exaggerate the importance of events like this, but we are literally talking about the future of our planet. We are talking about the sustainability of the future that today’s young people will or will not have,” she said.

“This is the world’s best chance but it might actually be the last real chance the world has to avert climate catastrophe and to address the tipping point the world stands at. So there has probably been no more important gathering certainly in my lifetime than the one taking place here over the next couple of weeks.”

Climate emergency

The summit also offers Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party (SNP) governs in coalition with the Greens, a chance to showcase Scotland as a progressive European country committed to tackling the climate emergency.

Scotland’s offshore oil and gas have been at the centre of the SNP’s economic case for independence for decades, but Sturgeon is now committed to accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. Her climate plan is more ambitious than the Johnson’s, promising to reach net zero emissions by 2045, as opposed to 2050.

“We would be much more powerful as an independent country. Not least, we’d be sitting around the negotiating table at Cop26. Directly in our own right, if we were an independent country, we would have more financial wherewithal and clout.

“Things that right now are the decisions of UK government around oil and gas licensing, for example, would lie with the Scottish government,” she said.

Sturgeon won Scotland’s parliamentary elections this year promising a second independence referendum by the end of 2023, and she says she is still working to that plan unless the coronavirus pandemic knocks it off course.

A binding referendum could require the authorisation of Westminster (although some lawyers believe the Scottish parliament’s assent alone would be enough) but Sturgeon says that if she wins a parliamentary majority for an independence vote, Johnson will have to decide if he accepts democracy or not.

Democratic choice

"Because of Brexit we have lost our freedom of movement across the European Union. We're no longer members of the European Union, all against our democratic choice. And, well, that's the price of not being independent," she said.

“We’re doing our best to contribute to the global efforts to tackle climate change. But at the Cop26 summit in our biggest city we won’t be directly around the negotiating table because we’re not an independent country. So the costs of not being independent are the ones that are damaging Scotland’s interests.

“And becoming independent, yes of course, as for all independent countries, it brings with it challenges. But I don’t know of a single country that is currently independent that would agree to give up its independence. And I think that probably tells a quite powerful story.”