Why an Independent Scotland is Better Placed to Tackle the Climate Emergency

By Justin Stevens

In 2021 the Parliamentary Elections for Scotland returned a majority for pro-independence parties, with the support of the Green Party alongside the SNP. The momentum for another independence momentum builds.

The two issues of independence and climate are very much interlinked, because if Scotland is able to govern itself then new trajectories and options become available. However, some people have argued that being independent will actually undermine efforts to tackle climate change. In this article, I will examine exactly why Scotland is more able to tackle the climate emergency by being independent.

Reason 1: Track record

For over a decade, the English government has not taken climate change seriously. Against all the spin and rhetoric, one only has to look at actual votes and actions:-

  • Westminster funding of overseas fossil fuel projects amounted to £6 billion since 2010 (as reported here). Only in 2021, after sustained pressure, did the government finally agree to stop directly funding such projects.
  • But, within its own borders, the Westminster government has gone on to approve a long list of climate wrecking initiatives – from the expansion of Heathrow Airport to the extreme reluctance to reverse the building of a new coal mine in Cumbria.
  • In other areas, the Westminster government has rushed to expand road construction, slashed the only green homes grant, cut and scrapped the feed-in tariff for home owned renewable energy, and consistently breached air pollution standards for major cities. The list could go on.

Across this decade, government ministers – including the current Prime Minister – have consistently opposed, challenged and watered down attempts to take a stronger stance on the climate emergency.

Reason 2: Insincerity

Given the above, insincerity about climate change action may come as no surprise. But the extent to which government ministers and the Prime Minister say one thing, only to do the exact opposite, is truly staggering. On numerous occasions, when promoting green initiatives, Boris Johnson has chosen to reach them by plane and helicopter – even, in some cases, when such initiatives were just over two hours away by train.

Even as government ministers stand before press podiums declaring ‘plans’ to tackle climate change, it appoints dedicated climate deniers to environmental committees and aligns itself with billionaire media moguls who oppose climate action (Murdoch being one example).

Reason 3: Crackdown on environmental activism

Despite continuing pressure, the Westminster government is set to impose a draconian new law (the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’) that would outlaw peaceful protests that cause ‘disruption’. The law, seen as an explicit attack on the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, came in the wake of mounting protests against insufficient government action to tackle the climate emergency. Indeed, the British Home Secretary Priti Pratel was quoted as describing these activists as ‘criminals’ who ‘threaten our way of life’. Efforts were also made to classify XR as an ‘organised crime group’ and, although later dropped, the government has consolidated the impunity of undercover police to infiltrate and disrupt the work of such groups.

Reason 4: An international center of tax evasion and corruption

For anyone who has visited inner city London, it might not be immediately apparently that entire streets are owned by Russian oligarchs, Saudi Arabian princes, and other members of ‘the 1%’ global elite. This, however, is just the tip of a humongous iceberg (and, unlike the others, it’s not melting). The London-centered UK finance center has, for decades, been a hidden epicenter of a globalised network that launders money from former dictators, the beneficiaries of the most extractive and exploitative corporations, and outright criminals. Indeed, mafia expert Roberto Saviano – who dedicated most of his life to uncovering networks of ‘black money’ – described the UK as the ‘most corrupt country in the world. The explosive Panama Papers leak in 2016 demonstrated the veracity of that assessment – with UK firms, top businessman, politicians and even then Prime Minister David Cameron being connected with huge tax evasion networks. But, aside from Panama, the British overseas territories – the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, etc – top the list for the world’s ‘tax havens’, where billions of money is channeled by the world’s richest people in order to avoid paying their fair due of tax.

The implications of this one issue are so huge that it merits an entire article by itself, and even closer to home we have seen leading British ministers willing to engage in outright corruption.

Despite the above, there are chances that the Westminster government could change course and redeem itself. First of these is the landmark Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. If backed, it would be the first piece of legislation with teeth to truly tackle the climate emergency, with concrete commitments that bind the Government to reduce emissions and take meaningful steps, by 2030, in reversing biodiversity loss. We should watch closely how the Westminster politicians vote in this matter, especially those in the dominant Conservative Party.

If Scotland were to gain independence, it could break free from a government consistently opposed to real climate change action and which is heavily linked to vested interests that benefit from a high consuming, high emission trajectory. Independence would also enable rejoining the European Union, which has some of the strongest legislation in the world to tackle the climate emergency and has a long list of environmental achievements, with most EU member states meeting or exceeding their carbon emission reduction targets.

However, independence and even rejoining the EU does not automatically guarantee that Scotland will be a world leader in climate change. Whatever government emerges must be reminded what steps are necessary, rather than being enticed into following the standard model of ‘limitless growth’, based on GDP. It must not be afraid to break from this destructive mould and to place the long-term benefits of citizens, the environment, other species -and ultimately the continuance of life – before short-term votes and securing quick money from elites.

For now, we are still some way from even being in the position of making a choice. Pro-independence parties in Scotland are well ahead of their English counterparts in setting out meaningful climate change policies, but they are still ultimately overseen and restricted by Westminster.

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