Your nationality won’t matter if we wreck the planet – Christine Jardine

As Brexit and independence distract our politicians, important issues like the need to tackle climate change – as highlighted by campaigner Greta Thunberg – are not being properly addressed, writes Christine Jardine.

I came face to face this week with the reality of that old saying about how it is often from the mouths of young people that we hear the truth.

Sixteen-year-old Swede Greta Thunburg has sparked an international protest movement by speaking out about her fears for the future of the planet. This week the almost stereotypical Scandinavian schoolgirl in her blonde pigtails told a packed room of MPs where we are getting it wrong. And she was right.

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Too little time recently has been dedicated to looking at how we are damaging the planet, undermining the future of generations to come and destroying the natural world. More importantly we are letting the valuable and scarce time we have left to change things slip through our fingers.

Greta Thunberg reminded MPs there are more serious issues than Brexit, like climate change (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Greta Thunberg reminded MPs there are more serious issues than Brexit, like climate change (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Greta Thunberg reminded MPs there are more serious issues than Brexit, like climate change (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

That was also not my only encounter this week with a younger generation frustrated at the adult world’s lack of action to protect their environment. On Friday morning I visited a group of pupils at Cramond Primary School in my constituency to see their campaign to clean up the air they breathe every day.

Their presentation was impressive but so too was their commitment that their world is under threat and that we are all responsible. Everything they said echoed what I had heard earlier from Greta, and not just about climate change.

Too often recently that word responsibility has seemed absent from British politics. It has seemed that nobody really wanted to take responsibility for the mess we are in and fix it. Old party lines, and ingrained tribalism, always seemed to win the day.

That is where the another, inspirational, moment of the week could, potentially, be important in tackling not just climate change, but every other major issue challenging us at this moment.

Midweek I took part in the official launch of More United, a network of MPs from seven different political parties who are working to find progressive solutions to issues that are being completely ignored because of the Brexit saga.

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It should not actually be big news but it was. Myself and colleagues from other parties were on television, radio and elsewhere explaining how important we feel it is to build consensus. To work together. That way you achieve progress.

As an example, earlier this year I joined forces with Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and Nicky Morgan from the Conservatives to lead a joint campaign on immigration. Our approach was simple: we wrote to 150,000 More United members asking for their views on what needed to be changed in our immigration and asylum system.

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The 17,200 people who responded were, of course, split on whether they thought immigration had had a positive or negative effect on their own community. But the consultation revealed a shared desire for practical steps to build a new immigration policy that would support our economy and local communities, without being unnecessarily cruel or xenophobic.

The three of us then met the Home Secretary, who, in the face of such powerful cross-party collaboration, had no choice but to listen to our proposals.

The fact that the three of us were able to put aside our differences to work together on an issue that we cared deeply about is, I hope, a tribute to the memory of our late colleague Jo Cox.

It was Jo who reminded us that there is more that unites us than separates us. We have more in common than divides us.

The country is crying out for politics to be done differently, for the toxic and hostile atmosphere to be changed and for politicians who disagree fundamentally on some issues to work together when they do agree.

Ironically while Brexit has, at times, stretched that capacity to work together to breaking point, it has also cemented agreement between politicians who often have little other common belief.

Many of those I work with in More United are the colleagues I have also worked with to try to find a compromise solution on Brexit. To break the impasse between those of us who want to stay, and those who want to leave, by taking any proposed deal back to the people.

But, while I could see how this could help answer the questions asked by those young people, there was one dark cloud on the political horizon. Just when it looked as if we might be taking that responsibility seriously.

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Putting real issues back on the agenda and working towards fixing the things that actually blight peoples’ lives every day. Up popped another political process row about how we define our identities. Independence.

I’m not going to rehearse the arguments here. My views on independence are well known. There is only one thing I really need to get off my chest about it.

For three years now, the country has been torn apart by an argument about leaving the European Union. In Scotland, we had years of division and bitterness before that about whether to walk away from the United Kingdom.

In that time, the issues that those children I met this week in Cramond, that Greta Thunburg and millions of teenagers across the globe are protesting about, or that families come to my office about every week, were sidelined. To be blunt, if we get absorbed in arguments about our identity we risk losing sight of what really matters.

If we destroy our planet it will not matter if we call ourselves Scottish, British, European or anything else for that matter. Listening this week to a younger generation express their fears about their future and how this generation of decision-makers might be damaging it I was more convinced than ever.

It’s time we stopped thinking about our differences and worked on progressive solutions to the problems which we all face. Most things are more important than divisions.