Forget IndyRef … Holyrood campaign is really becoming the climate election for all

So, this really is the climate election then. That much became clear as Scotland’s five main political leaders debated on the BBC last night. But will it deliver?

Will it bring forward not just hope and promises, but action? Can it go beyond putting on a show for world leaders and trying to one-up London at COP26 by beginning the roll out of urgent work needed for all our sakes?

Most of today’s news headline predictably focus on the continued constitutional arguments that engulf the nation.

Of course they do, it impacts not just Scotland but all of the UK. It is right that this remains a central plank of our thinking, yes, even in a pandemic, whatever the eventual outcome for these islands.

Look beyond that though, skip past the rhetoric and political point scoring during the live BBC Leaders Debate and the next big topic was climate intertwined in part with the pandemic recovery

Never in 25 years of covering elections have I known a political campaign where nature, the environment and climate change have been such a key driver.

I’d like to say it shows how far we’ve come, but in truth it shows how desperately far we have failed. It is a topic now born of necessity, not prevention.

Nicola Sturgeon, after months of being drilled and grilled by daily news conferences and committees, is of course now world class in such debates.

You wonder what toll such a role must take on her as a human. The grief, the angst, the never switching off. The mistakes. The burden of others and responsibility for all. The constant sniping and treachery. And yes, even the wins.

She didn’t sparkle, but she was solid. An experienced hand at the wheel, to coin her own words.

And amid the backbiting at her, clues as to what may finally emerge in her party’s manifesto when it comes to climate.

She talked of tackling the national crisis behind heat and energy in our homes and buildings but stopped short of saying what that might be, instead leaving it to the updated climate change plan rounded on by some critics previously to build upon.

A glance at comments from the renewables, construction sector and environmental campaigners might enlighten.

They talk to the carbon emissions created, the fuel poverty endemic across society and the need for better benchmarking for mass builds amid a shortage of affordable, warm housing.

But that alone won’t be enough.

Everything needs to be done, all at once. Half-hearted attempts at tackling climate change won’t cut it, was the warning from the Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater who emerged properly onto the national stage for the first time a year and a half into the role.

“The climate crisis has got to be our number one concern,” she said, insisting only her party had properly costed out plans for a green recovery to deliver jobs, nature protection and innovative solutions to embrace what Scotland really looks like.  

She talked with authority and with an urgency on the subject that others failed to match, even drawing praise for her performance from none less than the doyen of political analysis Sir John Curtice in the BBC’s after debate news wash-up.

An engineer in the renewables sector, she dismantled the laments from rivals over the impacts on the oil and gas industry, leaving Tory leader Douglas Ross unable to answer the question when would enough be enough. He repeatedly failed to answer.

His was perhaps the most surprisingly lamentable performance of them all, flip flopping from one position to another. First he would never work with an independence facing party, to insisting people had to work together as one example.

“I don’t want to work with a party that’s going to separate our country,” he said.

Social media posts about his TV showing soon emerged, one wag offering faux sympathy for “the end of his political career”. Not to worry, there was a volley of consistently worded support from those of a blue hue to defend him.

Meanwhile Willie Rennie from the Lib Dems touched on issues around climate, particularly with regards economic recovery. He pledged to put divisions behind them, and to bring the parties closer together.

“We now need that sort of national effort to tackle the Climate Crisis. We can’t afford not to,” he said.

There wasn’t much detail as to what that might look like, often an issue of Rennieisms, but engaging the conversation is a promising start. Perhaps more detail on what that national effort could be will emerge.

The hardest job in the debate probably sat with Anas Sarwar, new into his position as the Scottish Labour leader and thrown right into the deep end.

He started quietly, was sucked into the referendum argument for a time, but landed the biggest shots towards the end particularly against the Tories with regards to respect and calling out those who target others.

And he too offered some insight into how his party might approach a green recovery, stating: “This crisis does not end when the lockdown ends – that’s why we have to pull our country together.”

Together, well, almost. There’s a long way to go in this campaign.

But if we are to vote as if our lives depend on it, or put the recovery first, vote for a national recovery, end division, decide Scotland’s future or whatever campaign slogan floats your Ark, the politician’s view on climate has to be a key measure of whomever deserves each vote.

Which is why it was worth noting the views of the panel on last night’s show in particular, the voices of youth, talking about climate.

Scotland’s voting age is lower than the rest of the UK. They are terrified by climate change and the Earth they shall inherit.

Old wise heads and all may do well to remember that.

You can watch the debate in full at the BBC’s iPlayer.

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