THE coronavirus demands real leadership in the face of a crisis, such as that shown in nations which have closed services and travel routes.

The scale of the outbreak means large-scale events where people gather in number must be suspended. There was an irony in the Chancellor reflecting on this while delivering his Budget in a House of Commons stuffed with MPs cheek-by-jowl.

But he failed to offer the kind of real protections that matter to vulnerable people during this crisis. Things like being able to pay your rent when you’re forced to self-isolate and your insecure job means you are not entitled to sick pay.

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As with the climate emergency, it is the most vulnerable people and the most vulnerable nations that will suffer the most from the crisis.

Meanwhile, that climate emergency barely got a mention in the Budget. In fact, with £27 billion to be spent on major road expansions and the retention of the £11bn-a-year freeze on fuel duty that has driven up transport emissions, this was a positively dangerous Budget that shows clearly that the UK Government is listening to lobbyists rather than the science.

One large-scale event which is currently still due to happen is the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November. While updating MSPs on plans for the conference this week, the Scottish Government let a cat out of the bag when it comes to their relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

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I asked Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (above) about the industry lobbyists who have funded and lobbied previous summits undermining attempts to address their mission to extract as much oil and gas from the planet as possible.

The Minister said the fossil fuel lobby “has an important role to play in supporting the transition to a net-zero emissions economy”, and that these corporations need to be “part of the conversation”, not locked out of it. This would be fine if these companies were already slowing production and investing in the alternatives, but they are not. It’s like inviting the tobacco industry to lead efforts to get everyone to stop smoking. How can the oil industry’s plan for its own end point be treated with credibility?

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Unfortunately, the SNP are doing just that. During their last party conference, BP, one of the world’s biggest polluters, spoke at an event which was looking for routes to net zero. Scotland’s second-biggest polluter is the petrochemical site at Mossmorran in Fife, a failing fossil fuel relic where repeated breakdowns and faults have meant that excess gas has been burned off into the air.

As well as lighting up the sky for a significant part of eastern Scotland, the flaring, from operator ExxonMobil, has caused abject misery for local communities such as Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly. According to NHS Fife, it has been bad for their health and wellbeing. It has been nearly two years since ExxonMobil got a “final warning” about this persistent pollution. This is not evidence of a corporation who is supporting the transition to a net-zero emissions economy.

Quite the opposite.

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If the Scottish Government wants ExxonMobil to be “part of the conversation”, surely that firm needs to have got its act together before now? Surely it should be playing a more active role in the long-term future of the site.

More importantly, surely both the company and ministers should be meeting with and listening to the community who are suffering as a result of this?

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I’ve asked Roseanna Cunningham and Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse (above) to meet with communities several times.

This is clearly one conversation they are not too willing to be a part of.

In fact, while ministers were telling the community they cannot interfere with investigations by the regulator, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Wheelhouse invited ExxonMobil to meet with him.

No wonder thousands have now written to the Environment Secretary asking her to engage, and calling for an urgent independent inquiry and real action to protect these communities.

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There needs to be a serious conversation about what happens next. An urgent inquiry could lay the path for closure of ExxonMobil’s operations and investment in clean, green industries in the area instead. If the company cannot address the immediate extreme noise and light pollution it is causing, we cannot expect it to commit to providing a sustainable future.

The Just Transition Commission’s interim report pointed to the closure of Longannet coal power station (below), and how so little was done to support nearby communities. Governments must recognise where the fading industries of the past are being wound down and start to invest in a sustainable future for the communities affected. You’d think after Ravenscraig and Silicon Glen, Scotland would be better at this.

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That conversation needs to be led by those communities, not by a fossil fuel industry in denial.

There is a parallel here with COP26, too. While the UK and Scottish Governments welcome the giants of oil, gas and coal into the talks, what is being done to support delegations from developing countries in the global south in getting there and making sure their voice is heard?

There are tiny nations in the Pacific, who face a threat to their very existence, for whom eye-catching targets by 2050 are a luxury because they are likely to be underwater well before then.

Like the UK Budget, like the situation at Mossmorran, our governments are not listening to the people who really matter. That needs to change.