The gap between perception and reality can be vast, and none more so than the rhetoric around the Scottish Government’s Bute Agreement between the SNP and the Greens. If you were to read the collected analysis of Scotland’s finest commentariat you would believe we were under the yolk of an extremist regime of radical green-leftists. The Union’s finest scribed regularly wail about the terrible Greens and their atrocious radicalism. Their rage and confusion is palpable.

Alex Massie has called the Greens “dangerous extremists” and “genuinely wicked”. Massie devoted an entire Sunday Times column to them writing: “An early test of seriousness for the new first minister: do they ditch this faddish, ‘hello sky! hello flowers!’, nonsense about a ‘well-being economy’?” and that “A well-being economy is really just code for a poorer one.” Iain Macwhirter is equally apoplectic, writing: “Wellbeing is a shorthand for the Scottish Green Party’s policy of degrowth” which is a travesty he believes, citing the Greens, on “using politics to promote reduced consumption. Chris Deerin has described them as “yappy, unserious Scottish Greens”, “extremist”and “radically left-wing and anti-economic growth.”

Yet, in reality we are governed by an insipid managerial class of well-meaning but ineffectual politicians who couldn’t push through a recycling scheme and were hounded out for attempting some marine conservation.

Yesterday it was announced that the Scottish government is to abandon its “world-leading” goal to cut carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, after repeatedly missing its legally binding targets (we missed eight out of the last twelve). The announcement was seen by some as a re-set of a policy that was higher on aspiration than it was grounded in reality. Others have claimed that the Scottish Government can’t really make the big changes necessary without independence (not true). Others are just angry. Environmental campaigner Ric Lander has written:

“The Scottish Parliament set those numbers. Alex Salmond attended the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference on a wave of smugness about his supposed climate leadership. Sturgeon wore her targets on her sleeve when Scotland hosted the UN in Glasgow in 2021. That same year the Scottish Green party took ministerial salaries to deliver ‘zero carbon homes’ and ‘active travel’. They all got cheered. They all got paid.

“We were told, repeatedly, that Scotland’s targets were ‘world leading‘, responding to a ‘climate emergency’. Yet 15 years since the first climate targets and our homes are still freezing and toxic air pollution still chokes our streets. Promises betrayed. The only serious carbon cuts came from the end of the coal industry [Longannet – Ed]. This was indeed a major industrial shift, but far from planning for it and planning for its fallout Labour in London and the SNP in Edinburgh actively resisted it. When Scotland’s last coal power station closed the First Minister decried it, blaming the loss of jobs on London rule.”

“If bold action on climate change had been delivered the targets would be academic. If we had been given programmes to insulate our homes and improve public transport the targets could have been exceeded. They would be a footnote as we instead celebrated practical changes that improved our lives. We have no such progress, just statistics that prove failure, front and centre of the page, a reminder that it is only when they are broken that targets really matter.”

The truth is that we could have made these targets but it would have been difficult, because it is difficult. As a society we are resistant to change, to any change, and anytime we get a glimpse of the actual changes that are required we baulk and squirm and politicians rush in to weaponise our fears. The ‘war on cars’ is a case in point but you can look to almost any attempted change to address climate catastrophe and you will see the same.

Last month the Scottish government came under intense criticism from the UK Climate Change Committee. Its report said the 2030 target (to cut carbon emissions by 75% by that year) was “no longer credible” because of slow and insufficient action on home heating, transport, farming and nature restoration.

Yet on each of those areas – which are fully devolved – we could and should have made much bigger progress. Yes persuading people to switch to lower carbon heating systems is a giant PR task – it is perceived as costly – and faces a wall of media hostility – but that is the government’s task. Yes persuading people out of their cars and into public transport and onto their bikes is a PR challenge – but it’s an open goal. Come on. Yes persuading a big lobby like farming to change is a battle, but stop pandering to these people. Offer some carrot and quite a lot of stick.

People are rightly resistant to baring the brunt of the required change because we are already suffering under the almighty weigh of the ‘cost of living crisis’ and grotesque inequality. That is why the climate catastrophe needs a response that is about socio-ecological change, challenging the reality of corporate greed, confronting systemic change and abandoning the decades-old con of individual lifestyle change as a solution.

We don’t need to rehearse any of the facts, You know them all.

 Experts say its possible that in 2024 we will go past 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures—the mark that we had pledged to try to avoid at the Paris climate summit just eight years ago. At 21.12°C in March, the global sea surface temperature was an all-time high.

You know all this.

We have journalists who consider the Scottish Greens some kind of unfathomable far-out radicals, we have politicians who cling on to Scotland as a future petrostate, and the idea of a Just Transition is a fever-dream. But most of all we have just failed to get our heads around the fact that capitalism is unreformable. Our economy is destroying our society. Nothing shows us this clearer than our energy economy.

In February Darren Woods, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, gave an interview to Fortune magazine. Commenting on this in the TLS Bill McKibben, founder of 360.org wrote:

“Many who read it reacted most negatively to his insistence that civilization had “waited too long” to make a switch to renewable energy, and so needed to rely various schemes such as carbon capture to make its continued reliance on fossil fuel survivable. Not least of the objections was the fact that Exxon and its industry partners in climate obfuscation are clearly the single greatest reason we have “waited too long”.

But Woods said something else, too, an observation more honest, if no less deplorable: his company, he admitted, had no interest in backing renewable energy because it did not offer “above average returns to shareholders”. That is true: because the sun and wind provide the fuel free, and because no company can control their supply, there is less chance of outsized return. People will get rich building solar panels, but not Exxon rich.”

But you know all this. As you get ready to fly off to whatever part of Europe isn’t actually ablaze – this is what abandonment looks like. As sure as the wildfires that will soon burn again this is the unmistakable stench of political failure.


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  1. Michael Ansell says:

    Emissions from domestic heat demand are a big problem in Scotland and across UK. Yet the UK government presides over a situation where the fossil fuel gas is massively subsidised compared to the (greener and greener) electricity supply due to the extra costs lumped by the UK Government on electricity supply. It is little wonder why very slow progress is made on this front. If the subsides were removed from gas the switch to electrical heating systems would increase markedly and without all these complicated grant schemes. But Westminster baulks at this due to the unpopularity this would engender in a public who don’t give a shit and just want warm rads and warm water. You would be able to heat Glasgow from the meltdown in the UK press that this action would engender. So there is a legitimate reason to ‘blame Westminster’ on this key and quite fundamental point.
    Having said that few would have confidence in this SNP/Green government being brave enough to change this situation either.

  2. Jeel says:

    Legal actions are the only way forward given that £s€s$s are all that seem to matter to the major players.

    1. Tony says:

      Globalisation & neoliberalism are the problems (maybe one & the same). Using the power of fiat currencies, we need to invest locally & produce more at home, before we think about importing.

  3. Tracy Patrick says:

    When politicians and media commentators resort to childish language such as wicked, left wing and extremist to try and discredit anyone who talks honestly about climate change it not only fills me with despair at there being no adults in the room but I find it very dark and I feel the shadow of Orwellian totalitarianism. If you don’t get with the narrative you’ll be met with an insurmountable wall of absurdity. I don’t have evidence on why the Scottish government didn’t meet their climate targets. I don’t think they were gaslighting us and I don’t think their aims were unrealistic. There’s an obvious sea change globally and politically that is palpable and ugly. Certain interests who did not like the agenda flexed their muscles. Also an independent Scotland is still at the mercy of powerful interests globally and those interests have weapons. I’m not smart or researched enough to break all this down. I feel like society is like the alcoholic who needs to hit rock bottom before they have any chance of recovery. People will drum up any old narrative that means they can justify carrying on the same old habits and anyone who stands in their way is the enemy.

  4. Paddy Farrington says:

    As a scientist in a quantitative discipline, I find the discussion of targets in the political arena and the media very uninformative. It is not helpful to reduce a quantitative measure (emissions reduction) to a binary (fail/not fail): if a target is not met, surely it matters by how much it’s not been met? In fact you could argue that a correctly set target should be one that is met about 50% of the time (if it’s met more often than that, then the target is not demanding enough).

    So my question is: what is Scotland’s projected emissions reduction by 2030, and by how much are we expecting to miss the 75% target?

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      “Targets” were a gimmick introduced by the Blair Government to imply they were serious about tackling things in an ‘objective’ way. In practice they were actually an instrument of control over people who were trying to deal with things such as raising achievement in schools, treating more patients in A&E, etc. The ‘targets’ were allegedly set by those ‘on the front line’, but in practice, if a target was set which was not the target ‘suggested’, then it was not accepted.

      The media used it as an instrument of blame, and, for them blaming is an end in itself.

      As you indicate, if a target has been set and is not met, but significant progress has, demonstrably, been made, this is still deemed a ‘failure’.

      An example of the misuse of data is the so-called ‘attainment gap’ between children in the lowest and highest economic deciles. If, for example, the base line data were 8% lowest socioeconomic decile and 15% (highest) the gap is 7%. If, after five years the attainment level in the lowest decile is 17% and that of the highest decile is 24%, the gap is still 7%, and so the schools are deemed to have FAILED despite the fact that 2.5 times as many young people in the lower decile are achieving the standard.

    2. Niemand says:

      Oh please, don’t start talking sensible stuff like this, it will get us nowhere!

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I watched the Ken Burns documentary The Great American Buffalo on another of humanity’s (well, Western capitalist) ecological crimes.
    The second episode was honest enough, I guess, about the odious views (white supremacy, macho hunter, commercial exploitative) of many of the people who helped prevent the North American bison from going extinct.

    I guess we are still awaiting the people with odious views to join the climate mitigation side.

    But the failure/complicity of the political class here and elsewhere shows clearly that our political system is definitely insane. Our polycrisis is not just a polycrisis for humans but for most lifeforms on the planet. We’ve created deserts before, including by Scots in Scotland, but the scale of the terror and destruction we are now wreaking is historically unprecedented. It doesn’t even make sense dynastically, unless the Great Game is really now about last ruling family standing.

    The Scottish Greens have been feeble appeasers with their own bent, but the ‘cost of living crisis’ is partly a correction to the comparative high life we’ve been living off the exploitation of people, other lifeforms and resources elsewhere. Of course, if we had a political system prioritising enduring Health rather than fickle Will, we would have enough to share, and even what George Monbiot calls public luxury, and still maybe release half the Earth to nonhuman living.

    1. John says:

      I watched the Ken Burns Buffalo programme too.
      Essentially the settlers hunted the Buffalo to extinction. At the last moment they realised the impact of what they had done and only way to protect Buffalo from humans was to lock them up.
      It was heartbreaking and thought provoking showing the arrogance, greed and sheer ignorance of the American settlers. Traits not restricted to American settlers but unfortunately prevalent in many so called ‘successful’ humans.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @John, yes, the documentary was crystal clear about the failure of the federal government right up until the last gasp to protect the living world against the market forces which inexorably moved to destroy it, accelerating as the buffalo became scarcer. The US army should have shot poachers in Yellowstone; instead if they caught them, a word and temporary escort out of the national park. This is how ecocide unfolds. The mindset of ‘killing two birds with one stone’, wiping out the buffalo to wipe out the native Americans (or at least their culture) was also fairly covered, although the documentary rather glossed over the horror of residential schools for indigenous children (not the focus, though).

        I’ve recently watched Killers of the Flower Moon, which is also rather scathing about the types drawn to the freedom (or licence) of the West, exploiting a different kind of resource. Like Shōgun, it is the Europeans who are depicted (historically accurately) as vicious (‘savage’ and ‘barbarian’ are not good words), deceitful and hypocritical. Ignorance is just about right too, I guess.

  6. John Wood says:

    Well said. Capitalism is incapable of doing anything except make the situation worse. It’s no wonder its supporters are getting furiously angry and desperate – they know the Titanic is going down but cannot face up to the truth. Let them rant.
    We simply have to be the change.

  7. John Monro says:

    First Mike, thank you for your contribution to important debate, not just in Scotland, but in other parts of the world who come across this resource, by chance perhaps, but deliberately too as interested people – there’s a lot in your writing that is underpinned by an acute moral and ethical perspective. That interested person includes me, an Anglo-Scot expatriate living 12,000 miles away in New Zealand, but who loves his old home, like for instance being brave enough at the age of 75 years to backpack a tent for two weeks in the Outer Hebrides a couple of years ago. This Bella Caledonia is a wonderful tribute to your work and intelligence., though it’s a pity the lovely lady on the front page had to go though, some gender issues and cancel culture?

    Your well constructed article, a sort of despairing rant, who morally and rationally could seek to deny it? But there you are, you’ve told us who they are, and we agree. And here I am in New Zealand, with a new government of the right, a coalition of three strange entities – one populist and proscriptional, one very right wing and libertarian, and one more traditional right wing. A “three headed monster” as one observer noted. All three parties are led by somewhat intransigent personalities, I’ve likened the result to a political lava lamp, three immiscible entities moving in perpetual chaos and giving out little light.

    Anyway, I’ve just sent a submission in regard to the “Fast-Track Approvals” bill which is coming to totally obliterate all prior legislative input into major projects (from what has been leaked, mostly roads, mining, oil exploration and coal mining, because we haven’t yet been let into the secret) that might previously have enabled discussion and inputs from interested parties – you know, that pesky “red tape” of reality and citizen input. To get the flavour of this, one of our new ministers has railed against all that environmental nonsense, saying with all of New Zealand’s “clean coal” (I kid you not – he used this very phrase) why is it treated less fairly than other mineral extraction. There is wealth and jobs in the ground that must be utilised. Resource Minister Shane Jones is quote in the media as “dismissing what he calls green ‘catastrophising’ over coal mining. As part of upcoming RMA (Resource Management Act) amendments, Jones will remove the extra controls on consents that he says only apply to coal. He says the industry’s treated differently to other types of mineral extraction, and red tape is hurting the sector.” It seems our minister is confused as to what is a mineral and what is a fossil fuel and implying also that coal miners are too thick to learn new skills such as building windmills, installing solar panels and insulating homes.

    I am telling the truth, in other words. Scotland and New Zealand, similar countries, similar population, though New Zealand is nearly three and a half times bigger, with much greater natural resources of hydro, geothermal power, solar, and even wind. Options for renewable energy are abundant with wind and solar barely utilised and here were are, a minister extolling the benefits of coal, and with the actual power to make good on his promise.

    Insanity, here defined as a fatal combination of greed, ignorance and moral dereliction, stretches its toxic tentacles right around the world and back.

    1. John says:

      John – interesting and depressing update from NZ.
      It is really difficult to understand what drives the climate change deniers/skeptics.
      There is undoubtably an input from fossil fuel industry and impact on their future profits. There is also costs attached to implementing policies that reduce CO2 emissions but not as great as costs of not implementing. Undoubtedly some politicians see being anti renewable energy as a cynical opportunity.
      This IMO doesn’t explain it all especially as the evidence on global warming is coming thick and fast and the near future looks increasingly uncertain.
      There appears to be a section of climate change deniers who oppose any reduction in use of fossil fuels purely to upset those in environmental movement they despise. This is completely negative as these people will suffer as much as anyone else but they appear so consumed with bitterness that they are happy for both them and their families to suffer in long term as long as the environmental ‘do gooders’ are abused. It is a deeply worrying psychological phenomenon and one I do not understand. This approach seems especially prevalent in many ‘right wing’ (Nat Cons/Reform in UK,Republicans in US, Liberals in Australia & NZ) supporters.

      1. Niemand says:

        I think you can add to that that some genuinely think the concerns are exaggerated and so don’t agree with the more drastic measures. This is partly a function of distrust. There is also a danger that catastrophising makes this reaction more rather than less likely.

        I have always agreed with the position that de-growth is desirable. But have also accepted this probably has negative consequences on lifestyles and income. Overall though I believe it would be positive in many ways if we consumed less, used less energy, in general, across the piste, rather putting all our efforts into trying to find ways to allow growth in consumption and energy use in ‘green’ ways.

        1. John says:

          I would suggest that the majority of people (myself included) are both concerned about the current and future impact of climate change along with the impact on their own economic circumstances of implementation of changes to mitigate against climate change.
          The ability to make people understand the now probable impact and costs of climate change, manage the changes required, minimise the financial impact on poorest sections of society of these changes and explain and deliver the economic and societal benefits of a greener economy is not impossible it primarily requires leadership.
          The groups of politicians and climate change deniers I have described above are making this challenging task more difficult showing the opposite of the type of leadership required.

  8. Alan O’Brien says:

    As I understand it, this target was as a result of the British Nationalist parties combing to impose a higher Labour Party target on a minority SNP government. Happy to be corrected if this wasn’t the case.

    I expect the Brit Nat MSM to present this as an SNP Govt failure, I don’t expect sophisticated Independence supporters to go down the same route.

  9. David Martin says:

    I would like to increase my monthly donation but don’t see how ?

    1. Hi David – thanks very much.

      You can go here and there are various options:


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