Friday, 10 May 2019

Strugeon speech on a burning question

From my Daily Record column 03/05/19.

I should have posted this earlier but it still stands, especially now as the First Minister is moving on Air Passenger Duty and withdrawing support for a third runway at Heathrow (The SNP abstained in the last Commons vote).

Nicola Sturgeon followed up her fairly predictable SNP conference speech the other week with something far more thoughtful, opening up about the kind of big ideas we have to adopt to stop climate change.

Only a politician with lots of political capital can do this kind of thing, I argue Sturgeon should use her’s to advance this agenda. Anyway, read on...

Two big speeches from Nicola Sturgeon this week, one had acres of attention the other hardly appeared on the radar. Guess which was the most important for you?

We knew so much about the SNP leader’s bid for a second independence referendum that when she addressed her party conference at the weekend it had all the drama of watching a well-maintained cuckoo clock striking the hour. 

To be fair Nicola Sturgeon has made this speech often and regularly manages to dress up old news. No one in the hall really believed there would be a referendum in the two year time frame but they cheered to the rafters anyway.

She also had a standing ovation for a more nimble line, stealing Jeremy Corbyn’s thunder and riding on Greta Thunberg’s wave, by announcing Holyrood would declare a climate change emergency.

My inner cynic (I try to keep him at bay) sighed. This party spent 40 years telling us Scotland’s independent economy would forever be buoyed by hydrocarbons. What is the new SNP slogan to be: “It’s Scotland’s oil, and it’s staying the ground”?

That’s what a real response to a climate change emergency would mean.

In the hall the commitment to carbon-free future only required the same suspension of belief as a second independence referendum happening next weekend.

Remember, we’ve had the “Saudi Arabia or renewables” promise of the Salmond days but a government whose entire bandwidth was so taken up with the first independence campaign that no proper industrial strategy emerged.

It has fallen on trade unions, who see work in the renewables sector go across the North Sea, to come up with the vision of how jobs, communities and the country can actually benefit from the green manufacturing revolution that has almost passed us by.

But then Sturgeon’s second speech of the week, to a woolly sounding Wellbeing Economy Governments Policy Labs, struck the tone of someone with serious intent.

In Panmure House, the home of Scottish economist Adam Smith, Sturgeon acknowledged the “growing realisation that growth is not the only measure of a successful economy”.

She added: “And there is a growing realisation that we must give much greater priority to the wellbeing, and the quality of life, of people living in a country.”

Economists and environmentalist argue, quite rightly, that capitalism and our consumerism are eating up the planet. As Greta pointed out this is for the benefit of a privileged few. I think she meant us. 

To save us from ourselves governments have to stop endlessly chasing GDP figures, and more and more consumption, as a sign of national success.

To make sure the momentum that propelled Extinction Rebellion protesters into Michael Gove’s office is not ”only mildly less shit than expected” there has to be follow through on this week’s declarations.

The big targets of the Committee on Climate Change to stop global warming do come down to the personal.

Recycle, replace the boiler, buy an electric car next or better still have no car at all. Eat less red meat and fly a lot less.

These are big asks but only what the coming generation will oblige on us to do. Best get on with it as we already owe them for time wasted.

But to make this a decisive moment the entire political conversation has to change.

Either we overthrow capitalism (an ongoing project on the streets of Paris) or we change it, and change our measures of political success.

That’s extremely hard. Let’s all be more responsible and get slightly poorer is not as catchy as let’s get rich, and need not be the case. 

But if we’re to stop the planet burning we should vote for happiness and wellbeing not economic growth, as the First Minister suggested in her pioneering speech.

It’s going to take leaders with incredible communication skills, confidence and masses of personal capital to persuade people to change priorities, to jump the tracks and engage in radical 21st century, world-saving politics.

But I’ll tell you what Nicola, that’s a better mission than making clockwork speeches about a 19th century idea like nationalism.

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