Nicola Sturgeon's grandstanding at COP27 in Egypt is pointless. She should be focussed on problems at home – Murdo Fraser

Should Nicola Sturgeon ever be described as a ‘Bennite’ you can be sure it is nothing to do with the political beliefs of the legendary Labour left-winger, Tony Benn.

Think, instead, of another Mr Benn, the fictional character of the 1970s cartoon series. The man who made his way along Festive Road to the fancy dress shop where he donned a costume and had an adventure, pretending to be someone else until, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

Our First Minister is at her most convincing when she is pretending to be something she is not. But in this nation of shopkeepers, no one seems ever to appear to bring the make-believe to an end.

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So now the make-believe moves on to the international stage as the First Minister clocks up the air miles – and the unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions – to take selfies at COP27 in Egypt. She does not lead a nation state so she has no official status. But that doesn’t mean she can’t pretend. A picture with the Prime Minister of Barbados and she is off on another adventure – and make no mistake who she is trying to make believe in fairy tales.

It is not the international community to whom she is irrelevant and largely unknown. It is Scotland she is trying to kid. Trying to make voters here believe she is some kind of international player signing big global agreements. Giving presidents, princes and prime ministers a piece of her mind to save the planet.

And, to be honest, as a nation we should be glad she can run across the sands of this Egyptian conference without leaving a footprint. It is not just her lack of legal status that means she is not entitled to a place at a serious meeting on the environment. It is also her record as the leader of a devolved administration.

If the First Minister’s neck was not already brass enough, surely even she would have reddened to discover, that as she went on her pointless CO2-emitting flight to Sharm El-Sheikh, an agency of her own government – Highlands & Islands Enterprise – was recommending that islanders be given cheaper flights to get to the mainland with the First Minister’s administration apparently unable to have a ferry built.

There must have been shades of Versailles about Bute House when she was told, “First Minister, the islanders have no ferries” to which the reply from her gateau-encrusted lips may well have been: “Let them fly instead.”

Nicola Sturgeon, seen with climate activist Vanessa Nakate at last year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, should focus on Scotland's domestic problems (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

So here we have Scotland’s First Minister grandstanding at an international conference and lecturing the rest of the world on reducing carbon emissions, on exactly the same day as one of her agencies was proposing an increase in polluting short-haul flights to make up for one of the worst policy failures of her administration.

The botched deal to build two ferries – price still rising, ships still not built – she tells a Scottish Parliament inquiry was like Alex Salmond’s sexism, something she knew nothing about.

With environmental credibility in shorter supply than Egyptair slipperettes, the news also emerged that the Scottish Government has decided to slash £133 million from energy efficiency schemes rather than take one penny from their foreign embassies programme that Scottish ministers love to fly to. Consulates in Rome while the earth burns, perhaps.

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Remember the tens of thousands of green jobs the First Minister was going to create? They are over there with the ferries. And Nicola Sturgeon can tell us as many times as she likes that all Scotland’s electricity is generated by renewables – it still won’t make it true.

On Monday we learned that the Scottish Government’s latest wheeze was to pay ‘loss and damage’ reparations in the sum of £5 million to poorer countries which have suffered from the impact of climate change. This comes just a week after John Swinney announced swingeing cuts to vital services here, with more to follow.

I remain to be convinced of the case for such reparations to be paid, but even if that principle is accepted, the sum proposed is risible, insulting even – amounting to 91p for every person in Scotland. This is not a serious intervention, it is a gesture designed for one purpose only – to grab a headline on an international stage.

The question now about the First Minister is which is worse: does she think we believe she is a fully-grown political version of Greta Thunberg, or does she actually believe it herself? Better people than her have been relieved of command for delusions much less, if she does.

This is the genuine problem when every policy issue is seen as a PR opportunity rather than needing a policy response. When the First Minister is told that COP27 is happening, she doesn’t ask that Scotland’s climate change budget remains intact, she looks out her passport and calls for her official photographer.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was criticised for hesitating about his appearance at COP27 because he initially felt he had too much to do at home. That is not an instinct which would ever pulse in the First Minister. For her, duty free is a constant state of mind in so many ways.

We can, I suppose, afford her fantasy trips abroad because no one overseas seems to notice. But what none of us can afford is her inaction at home on so many fronts. The environment, the economy, education, and our crumbling health service. So many press releases, so few policy successes. So few real attempts to make a difference to Scots lives.

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The sad truth is that the First Minister’s appearance at Sharm El-Sheikh makes no difference to anyone other than herself. Scotland, and the First Minister herself, desperately needs someone to appear, as if by magic, and make Nicola Sturgeon’s make-believe come to an end.

Murdo Fraser is Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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