Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Climate activists hold a flag and cheer as Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior passes through the River Clyde, as the UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1.DYLAN MARTINEZ/Reuters

Glasgow’s moment in the global spotlight as host of the COP26 climate summit has been a godsend for Scottish nationalists who’ve seized on the opportunity to promote their cause to an international audience.

When world leaders descended on the city earlier this week, the pro-independence Scottish National Party took out several full-page newspaper ads that boldly declared, “A nation in waiting welcomes the nations of the world.”

The advertisements featured a photograph of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s leader, along with her flowing signature and a picture of the Scottish countryside in glowing sunshine. “We’re busy creating a greener, fairer, sustainable Scotland. While not yet an independent nation, we’re more than ready and able to play our part on the global stage at COP26,” the ads added.

London, Edinburgh play down risk of court battle over Scottish referendum in wake of election

Scotland elects minority government, dealing setback to independence hopes

Ms. Sturgeon has no official role at COP26, but she has managed to look like a stateswoman this week by holding high-profile meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, environmental activist Greta Thunberg and mayors from big cities including Los Angeles, London and Paris. She also briefly spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden and a photograph of the two sharing a laugh was quickly posted on the First Minister’s Twitter feed.

She isn’t the only pro-independence politician pushing independence at COP. Patrick Harvie, the co-leader of the Scottish Green Party, which is a coalition partner with the SNP, has also made it clear this week that he would be raising sovereignty during meetings with delegates.

Valerie Gauld, a retired teacher in Glasgow who supports independence, said it was fair game for sovereigntists to use COP26 to get their message out to the wider world. On Wednesday, she joined a group of independence campaigners in the city’s George Square as they carried a 12-metre long Scottish flag while blasting patriotic songs from a giant speaker.

“We feel strongly about the climate emergency,” Ms. Gauld said as she held the flag “In an independent Scotland we can build a greener Scotland, we can build a fairer Scotland.”

The independence battle has been heating up in Scotland ever since Ms. Sturgeon promised to hold a second referendum on sovereignty. It’s not clear when a vote would take place and so far the U.K. government has refused to give the required consent for a referendum. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the issue was settled in 2014 when Scots voted 55 per cent to remain in the union.

Ms. Sturgeon has argued that Scots have a right to determine their future especially given Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which a majority of Scottish voters opposed in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The SNP also won a fourth straight victory in Scottish elections last May which Ms. Sturgeon said has given her a mandate to call a fresh ballot on separation. She has indicated that she wants to hold a referendum before the end of 2023 and legal experts say courts will have to intervene if Mr. Johnson continues to resist.

Public-opinion polls put support for independence well above 50 per cent last year. However, recent polls have suggested the result would be too close to call.

The overt promotion of independence during COP26 has been met with sharp criticism. “It’s disappointing to see the First Minister exploiting Scotland’s place on the global stage to push her divisive agenda,” said Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservatives’ spokesman for constitutional affairs, accused Ms. Sturgeon and the SNP of using the conference “to push their divisive independence obsession.”

Ms. Sturgeon has brushed aside the attacks and denied that the SNP was trying to hijack the conference. “We didn’t launch a campaign,” she told reporters this week. “We had adverts in a couple of newspapers welcoming people to Scotland … . This conference is about climate change and I don’t think anybody hearing or listening or speaking to me over the course of yesterday or today would think I’m focused on anything other than that.”

It’s unlikely the issue will subside. On Saturday, groups of independence supporters will be waving giant flags and marching alongside environmental campaigners in a massive Global Day of Action protest through the city’s streets. The event will be broadcast on Independence Live, an online media outlet dedicated to promoting sovereignty.

“We do want to get the message out about Scottish independence,” said Kevin Gibney who runs the site from his home in Glasgow. “That’s why there is an independence group in the march. We’re going there with double hats: environmental issues and also for Scottish independence.”

Mr. Gibney added that while he was skeptical about about how the international media cover Scottish independence, he welcomed the chance to reach out to a much larger audience during COP26. “It’s really important to us that we show people the true picture of what Scottish independence could mean, both environmentally and in other ways,” he said.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe