2007 - 2021

An Open Letter to Ruth Davidson from Extinction Rebellion Scotland

Dear Ruth Davidson

As you know, yesterday five Extinction Rebellion activists locked ourselves to the railings outside Parliament with bike locks, and sent the keys to five leading MSPs from the five parties at Holyrood, together with a covering letter which read:

“This letter has arrived with a key, the key to our future. Please keep it: you will need to use it very soon.” This action was done with the hope of establishing dialogue about the climate emergency. My key, as it happened, was sent to you, with a tag attached marked “Rewild and Reforest.”

I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t come in person to unlock me, to show that you take the ecological crisis seriously. Maurice Golden, the Conservative spokesman for circular economy, who did come down, didn’t seem particularly keen to chat either. He spent less time talking to us than any of the other MSPs; though on the other hand, he was the only one to bring a glossy brochure.

To be honest, though, I wasn’t really sure, what I would have said to you if you’d appeared in person; nor did I think you’d be very eager to talk to me. I mean, there’s a widespread perception that climate activists and Conservatives are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and therefore can’t have anything to say to each other. There was a certain amount of joking that I’d still be sitting there at midnight waiting for Ruth to come and unlock me!

But however difficult it may be to find common ground, I believe it’s absolutely necessary to engage in dialogue across all manner of differences. All the more so when we’re faced with an global existential threat like climate breakdown. Like it or not, we really are all in the same leaky boat now—albeit the people in “steerage” have been sitting for years in the water that’s just now reaching the first class cabins.

I know there are plenty of people—both on the left and the right—who say we shouldn’t engage in dialogue with the “enemy” on the other side of the social and political barricades (mixing my metaphors!) that we’ve constructed. But I don’t see how political trench warfare is going to change anything. We need to meet in no-man’s land and talk it out.

I think we mostly all agree on the science now. At last we seem to have moved on after years of denial. Most people now accept that we are, in fact, in a state of emergency. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, at risk of catastrophic climate breakdown unless we change our global behaviour in just a few years; and unlike the other mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, this one is caused by the activities of human beings, especially our growing use of fossil fuels.

The question now is how to find a different way forward, to do so urgently, and to do so in a way that works for the whole of society. And do that we desperately need dialogue between people who wouldn’t usually talk to one another, cutting across long-established divisions in society. So, I decided to write to you and try and find common ground.

I hear you have recently returned from maternity leave after the birth of your son, Finn. Congratulations! As a parent myself I know what a wonderful and humbling experience it is to welcome to the world a tiny human being, entirely dependent on you. All children need, more than anything else, love and security. Nearly all parents do their very best to provide them, and we all find that our efforts are never good enough. Never more so that when you are forced to admit that the very basis of life—that the Earth will continue to support life in the way it always has done—may be under threat.

Today my 13-year-old daughter was in tears because she had been taught in science class about ocean acidification: how increasing CO2 levels are causing the seas to become more acidic, killing fish and corals. She told me she doesn’t want to know about climate change. She just wants to have a normal childhood.

My only answer was to say that I am doing everything I can to help fix the problem so that we’ll have a planet that she can live on in the future. That I’m locking myself to Parliament and campaigning in other ways so that she doesn’t have to worry about it, and can just enjoy playing football, doing her piano practice, reading Harry Potter books and generally having a normal childhood.

I also told her that I firmly believe nature has the power to solve a lot of problems for us, as long as we can get out of her way instead of working against her. That’s why I chose to have the phrase “Rewild and Reforest” on on my key and on the sign I was holding.I’m sure you know that Scotland has an enormous untapped capacity to absorb untold quantities of carbon from the atmosphere in her soils, her peat bogs, and above all, by regrowing the once-great Caledonian Forest that used to cover her uplands: uplands that are now managed primarily to maximise the population of herbivores like sheep, deer and grouse.

Not by planting monocultures of sitka spruce, but by allowing (and where necessary, helping) nature to regenerate, restoring diverse ecosystems that can provide us with a wealth of different yields, tangible and intangible, instead of just one or two cash crops. But this can’t happen unless rural people—both landowners and the communities that depend on the lan—can talk with the urban people who visit the land, and the people who make the laws, and work together to find out how to make that happen.

It’s going to be a few years before Finn learns about climate change in school. Let’s hope by the time he does, you’ll be able to tell him that things were looking really bad for a while back there, but thank heavens, we managed to turn the problem around.

But that’s not going to happen unless people can talk to each other across ideological divides. One way that has been suggested for doing this—and it’s one that we in Extinction Rebellion Scotland are promoting—is to create a Climate Citizens’ Assembly. This would be a body composed of randomly selected citizens, like the Citizens Assembly in Ireland that led to the historic abortion referendum not long ago. It would be a dedicated to finding solutions to the climate crisis, able to deliberate and consider policies that work for the whole of society without succumbing to party political divisions.

On June 20th a campaign for a Climate Citizens’ Assembly will be launched at Holyrood. You’ll find the declaration at the bottom of this letter together with an attached briefing paper. I’d like to ask you to support this campaign. It offers a way forward, a way we can overcome our ideological differences and work together.

With best regards,

Robert Alcock

Extinction Rebellion Scotland


“Declaration for a Climate Citizens Assembly for Scotland to enable rapid, just and deeply democratic decarbonisation.We call on the Scottish Government and Parliament to establish a Climate Citizens’ Assembly by March 2020, to be briefed on the scientific evidence of the true level of the climate emergency, and to consider and propose a set of policies to tackle the causes of the climate and ecological crisis.These policies must enable the critical economic and social transformations needed to radically accelerate Scotland’s existing plans for a Just Transition towards becoming carbon neutral within the time-frame required by the most up to date science, in order for us to play our part in stopping runaway climate chaos.Scotland can lead the world in developing the democratic process to show how every country can step up and deal with this crisis in a way which allows future generations and life itself to survive and thrive on this planet.”

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  1. Andy Anderson says:

    That was an excellent letter Robert.
    You are right to focus on the children because it is their future that we must provide for. I am 80 years old now and although I started my working life at 15 when I went to work in a coal mine, I had the beautiful Scottish countryside to roam in and the wonders of nature to enjoy. I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to have access to the natural world that gave me such pleasure and I want Ruth Davidson’s wee boy to also have that experience. So we must work together or sink together.

    1. Robert says:

      Thank you Andy. Much appreciated.

  2. Jean de says:

    Great letter, Robert. I saw you with your “Rewild and Reforest” poster on the news; so good to hear you & others
    at XR Scotland are taking the next step with this open letter. An attempt at empathetic dialogue with Ruth Davidson and others
    who’ve traditionally been on “the other side” of climate catastrophe politics is the right strategy; even if it first seems unlikely they’ll
    cede anything. As a parent in Germany, I’m involved with other XR-parents here; having both a child with a disability and a baby makes me,
    as yet, reluctant to get arrested or to lock myself to things – that would seem like burdening my partner unfairly. But we’re aiming at other action
    Robert – you mention the demand for establishing a Climate Citizens Assembly for Scotland by March 2020, which I fully support, and refer to the Republic
    of Ireland’s Citizen’s Assembly advicing on Ireland’s recent abortion referendum. As you’ll know, that Assembly has also had some sittings on climate change.
    1. Apart from it’s Chair, the Irish Assembly is composed of: 99 members who are “citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society.” If this selection model was directly applied to Scotland, it would not be wide enough: if the criteria for the Brexit referendum were taken as valid, both EU and other non-British international citizens — who are permanent residents in Scotland — would be debarred participation from the Climate Assembly. With no justification at all. Has XR Scotland reached a consensus on which people in Scotland could be randomly assembled for a Scottish assembly, including which percentage of U25s and U16s?
    2. Would any lawyers / law academics venture an opinion as to who would be a fair Chair for a Citizen’s Assembly for Scotland, based on the Irish model? The Irish have Mary Laffoy, a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland. The nearest equivalent in Scottish law to the Irish Supreme Court appears to be College of Justice, which contains the Supreme Courts of Scotland. The College of Justice currently has 35 members or “Senators”, although only 10 in the “Inner House” – (legal experts, please advise if it’s wrong to see these as having more legal clout than the 25 senators in the “Outer House.”) Insufferably, all 10 Inner House senators are officially titled Right Hon. Lady or Lord somebody other: it’s a joy to read the list of the current 9 members of the Irish Supreme Court, who are called things like Frank, Mary, Liam or Elizabeth, and are not forced to hide behind an archaic title.
    To me as a lay person, it might make sense to have a senior Scottish legal figure chairing the Citizen’s Assembly for Scotland: that Assembly will want to draft legislation for the Scottish parliament; those who want action on the climate catastrophe will want strong and watertight legislation. A figure who suggests itself on this level is one of the retired Lord Presidents of the Court of Session, the most senior judge in Scottish law. Checking the list of the last 5 Lord Presidents who have retired from the job since the mid-1990s, we find – suprise, suprise! – that they’re all men; indeed, that there’s never been a Lady President of the Court of Session. I entirely see the need for legal expertise to chair a Scottish Citizen’s Assembly; yet who else gets the impression that this group of Lords and Barons (no, no satire, all these 5 are either titled Lord or Baron), by force of their own biographical experience, may tend to side with ruling class interests in the tight and conflict-ridden space we’re in regarding environmental and societal collapse?
    Any thoughts on this Robert, or anyone else involved in / supporting XR in Scotland?

    1. Robert says:

      Thanks Jean! Your thoughts about the Irish CA are very interesting. I’m not the best person to handle detailed enquiries about the proposed Climate Citizens Assembly, can I suggest you send an email to Justin Kenrick or Eva Schonfeld, justin@climatecitizensassembly.org.uk or eva@climatecitizensassembly.org.uk?

  3. Davie Cunningham says:

    braw! humblin! brilliant and movin! aw pooer tae ye !

    1. Robert says:

      Thanks Davie!

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