AFTER reading the reports all weekend, I still can’t decide if COP26 has been a success or a failure. Like many international agreements, the Glasgow Pact does not seem to be something to which anybody who signed it can actually be held. The two most marginal signatories, China and India, have subscribed to words that both only just about believe in, and I would love to find the third country likely to try coercing them.

The chairman inside the Scottish Event Campus, Alok Sharma, was born in the shadow of the Taj Mahal but is today the Tory MP for Reading West – and he seems quite a decent fellow, for all that. He could scarcely restrain his tears as he proclaimed the accord on the Glasgow Pact, because he had feared it was failing in its highest purpose.

Yet people outside congratulated him on his achievement. It just goes to show how little some chairmen understand what they are chairing. Only the Maldivians appeared to share his gloom, but they may well have vanished beneath the Indian Ocean by the time of the next climate change conference.

Sharma is after all a member, hitherto a marginal member, of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. Boris has, however, spent the last fortnight embroiled in sleaze, while Sharma is a minister whose status has been boosted. By the time Boris landed in Glasgow (from a plane, of course), people were ready to laugh when he said “The UK is not remotely a corrupt country.”

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No wonder voters started telling pollsters how the next time they would back Keir Starmer. We may then face a Tory leadership contest between Rishi Sunak and Sharma, the Indian Mutineers’ revenge.

But in Glasgow it was Nicola Sturgeon who won the warmest plaudits, and she got herself into this enviable position not with an invitation to the conference but by doorstepping the Kelvingrove reception.

Amid the 25,000 foreign guests, Nicola and Boris had scores of their own they wanted to settle. The word got round that he would have excluded her altogether if he had been able to find a way. He never could for the simple reason that she was the head of government, though not head of state, of the country in which all the to-ing and fro-ing was due to take place.

If he had been able to do what he wanted, it would have been an indisputable triumph for him and humiliation for her. Alas for him, he got nowhere near his goal, so the two of them reversed the positions he had assigned.

What was worse, both had to stay on the front line of the conference: nobody could fail to mark their relative status. Neither could afford to withdraw, because that would have been to surrender as well. It was one of the finest examples of blinkered Johnsonian clumsiness.

Nicola, meanwhile, took with something approaching glee to the subordination that had been assigned to her. She revealed herself as a woman of genius when it comes to seeing the possibilities of unpromising situations and exploiting them not just to the full but even to an extent that reverses the initial order of things.

She didn’t have an official delegation behind her, but that left her every moment to chat up the president of this banana republic or the chief executive officer of that oil company. One called her the “true leader” of the whole business.

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Scotland’s true constitutional position may have seem a bit of a mystery to many of the foreign delegates, as indeed it is to some of us. But nobody can now deny that, whatever the underlying facts of the matter, Nicola is to the outside world Scotland’s embodiment and representative, well able to stand up with and to the leaders of any other country. Before the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, we had to present ourselves to the outside world through quangos and the like (some of which, notably Scotland Europa under Grant Baird, were very good). With devolution, we have seen our country take a step upwards, with a voice in international affairs approaching the autonomous.

NICOLA is the one who gives that voice its sharpest edge. Contrary to what surly critics say, it is no waste of her time and of ours that she goes on her travels to promote Scotland and pursue closer relations with foreigners so far as diplomatic convention allows.

That comes about because she has so much to say on the void in stratagems that has opened up between Scotland and the Union, to which it still belongs.

In Edinburgh, we cultivate a pro-European attitude with wide public backing, while in London they still confuse themselves about how isolationist they want to be.

The only one thing the UK appears sure about is the domestic voices that might be heard on Brexit. Boris and his minions say it is a matter for central government alone. From this unilateral business the devolved nations are then excluded, even though some subjects such as sheep and fish concern them rather than England.

A result is that, five years after the EU referendum, the Scots and the English continue to diverge as much as ever in European questions. There is no new British outlook being formed to meet the new international situation.

Even so, devolution is not seamless and this interim settlement is flawed. Among the contacts Nicola renewed in Glasgow were those with countries sharing an interest in a new economic attitude resting on “wellness”. Scotland is held to share it with the Scandinavian social democracies and with New Zealand, all of which, by some strange chance, live under governments headed by a woman.

In technical terms wellness entails dismantling the system of national accounting which economic science has relied on as the framework for policy-making since the 1930s and which most governments in the world still use today.

On the most modern view, this is reckoned to require too much emphasis on growing the economy and too little on other valid aims of policy tending towards a national state of health and welfare.

Alex Salmond was more interested in growing the economy, though he didn’t talk about it much. Under him as First Minister, his cabinet aimed for Scotland to match England’s faster growth rate. In a period of major projects fed from high capital expenditure it more or less succeeded. Since then the momentum has been lost.

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Nicola seems to me to lack all interest in growth. Her big speech at the climate summit in Glasgow, concerned “delivering on our promise to end our contribution to climate change within a generation, putting a just transition and wellbeing at the centre while taking the big and difficult decisions that will create a net zero, climate-resilient and fairer future.”

These are, of course, all worthwhile things in themselves. But Nicola did not acknowledge that, with growth, you can get more of them. The problem is that, unless Scotland does make faster material progress, a central part of the Unionist argument will remain persuasive – that the Scottish nation cannot afford independence unless it achieves for itself a more efficient and successful capitalist economy.