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What is Nicola Sturgeon doing at Cop27? Don’t ask, just ignore

Nicola Sturgeon is an incredibly divisive figure in Scotland, quite literally. She regularly leads her party to, or close to, 50 per cent of the popular vote in an elected and general election, and among nationalist Scots, she is not only likable, but likable, to the point where weakness or failure cannot be admitted. Permissible. The other half of the electorate feel just as strongly about the first minister, and would love to see her back.

Of course, division is what drives nationalism, so this situation is encouraged and enjoyed by the SNP. But it does mean that almost everything Sturgeon does is met with unconditional joy by her supporters and undisguised contempt by her critics.

Take the 27 cup, which sturgeon eagerly prepares. As the head of a delegated management, sturgeon has little standing and no influence at the Global Climate Change Summit being held in Egypt. But a large part of the never-ending national campaign for independence is to influence the manifestations of sovereignty and to provide the impression to television viewers and social media users that Scotland has already taken its seat at the top of the nation.

Needless to say, Sturgeon is adding to its already large carbon footprint by traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, at a time when its government is planning some big cuts to local services. It has also been criticized for taking along with SNP-run Glasgow City Council President Susan Aitken – a necessary step, Sturgeon says, because after she hosted Cop26 last year, council member Aitken must “hand over the responsibility of the policeman to Egypt”.

This makes it sound as though Cop27 is like the Olympics, and that no meetings or agreements can be made unless Chancellor Aitken is around to deliver the sacred flame.

However, pro-union politicians may wish to look carefully at the optics (they say) to decry Sturgeon’s propaganda-seeking actions. It is self-evident that foreign affairs are a responsibility specifically reserved for the Parliament of the United Kingdom under Scottish law. How would the Scots like it if English politicians took the same approach to conveying issues and sought, for example, to influence Scottish politics in the universities?

But it’s not just nationalists who enjoy seeing sturgeon on the world stage pretending it belongs there. Even many of those who oppose nationalism and independence have a high, albeit grudging, appreciation for the Sturgeon. Criticizing her for seeking to represent Scotland in important international forums would sound like talking about Scotland – which also coincides with the SNP’s preferred line of attack for anyone who criticizes Scottish government policy.

It is used because it is known for its effectiveness. The sturgeon attack makes some pro-UK activists feel good about themselves, but so far their constant criticism has had absolutely no effect on the prime minister or the polls in general.

This is why the UK government has so far been cautious in its response to flagrant breaches of protocol by Scottish ministers when it comes to distinguishing between delegated and retained powers. They seem to have concluded that an all-out opposition against Sturgeon and her team, while it would provoke and delight some hard-line unionists, would drive previously uncommitted voters into the Yes (independence) camp.

It does not leave that to the British government when it comes to the blatant disrespect of the power transfer settlement – for example, the expanding network of “Scottish embassies” in Europe, the propaganda of which contrasts with the fact that it is little more than a solitary office with a plaid St. Andrew’s flag affixed to it, Tucked away in a British Embassy stationery locker.

But there is more than one way to get rid of the hag. Withdrawing the Foreign Office’s support for the opening ceremonies would be welcome, forcing the Scottish Government to make its own arrangements and preventing it from relying too heavily on the logistical expertise and resources of an institution it resents and despises.

Recognizing that defense is a matter of express reservation and refusing to provide Scottish soldiers with a “guard of honor” for visiting Scottish ministers would be another step forward, and would end the exploitation of our armed forces for purposes of nationalist propaganda.

But it is far better to make these changes out of the public domain, and to force Scottish ministers to make public complaints that they are not being treated like VIPs. In a new era of austerity, such complaints would hardly put it in a good light.

It is easy to criticize Sturgeon and her colleagues, but UK ministers need to be honest about its effectiveness so far. Precision is the name of the game now.

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