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Calls to heed 'warning'

Obama: ‘nationalism obstructs global cooperation’

Barack Obama in Glasgow

Barack `Obama: criticised leaders of China and Russia

Former US president Barack Obama has stirred the constitutional debate in Scotland by attacking the “rise of nationalism and tribal impulses” for working against international cooperation on issues such as climate change.

Mr Obama’s comment at the COP26 summit drew immediate calls from Scotland’s opposition for the SNP government to take heed of his warnings.

In a speech which also criticised his predecessor and the leaders of China and Russia, he said: “I recognise that we’re living in a moment when international cooperation has atrophied — in part because of the pandemic, in part because of the rise of nationalism and tribal impulses around the world, in part because of a lack of leadership on America’s part for four years on a host of multilateral issues.

Although he did not offer further clarification to whom he was referring, unionists in Scotland took his remark as a cue to question Nicola Sturgeon’s attempts to use the summit as an opportunity to promote Scottish independence.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Scotland’s first minister has exploited her position on the global stage to push her divisive independence agenda rather than green sustainable solutions.

Nicola Sturgeon speaking before the COP26 summit

Nicola Sturgeon: accused of pushing indy case at the summit

“We are all in this together and we can only find solutions to the climate emergency if we all cooperate, within the UK and at global level. President Obama is quite right in saying that nationalism is a barrier to that.”

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, said: “The SNP should listen when he says it is critical everyone puts aside their narrow tribal interests if we are to hit net-zero targets.

“The SNP are too focused on pushing for another divisive independence referendum, rather than on the climate emergency, or they wouldn’t have missed their own emissions targets three years in a row.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Obama is right to highlight the scourge of nationalism on sensible, progressive politics.

“We are weaker when we are ruled by politics focused on nationalism and division. We are stronger when we work together for a better future.”

Nationalists turned to Twitter to say Mr Obama may have been referring to bigger nations which have snubbed the summit. He criticised the leaders of China and Russia for not being in Scotland.

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On the US position towards climate change he was particularly critical of his successor Donald Trump’s decision to pull the country out of the Paris agreement.

“Of course, back in the United States, some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement in his first year in office. I wasn’t real happy about that,” he said.

“Now with President Biden and his administration rejoining the agreement, the US government is once again engaged and prepared to take a leadership role.”

Addressing the younger people in the audience, he said: “I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated. But channel that anger. Harness that frustration. Keep pushing harder and harder for more and more. Because that’s what’s required to meet that challenge. Gird yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.

“You’re right to be frustrated. For most of your lives, you’ve been bombarded with warnings about what the future will look like if we don’t address climate change.”

However, critics took issue with his rhetoric, pointing to promises broken by his own administration, including the failure of a key promise by developed countries to deliver $100bn (£73bn) a year in climate finance to poorer nations.

He later drew ridicule on social media for appearing to refer to Scotland as the Emerald Isle, a term used to describe Ireland, and then quoting from “the bard” – only he was referencing Shakespeare instead of Robert Burns, the Scottish bard.

“Since we’re here in the Emerald Isles, let me quote the bard. What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” he said.

Twitter users leapt on the double error, but also gave him credit for his speech.

Jamie Green tweeted: “Did Obama just refer to Scotland as the “Emerald Isles” then quote Shakespeare???”

Moira O’Brien said: “The Emerald Isle is the country of Ireland. You are in Scotland and “these isles” are definitely not emerald. Enjoyed your speech though.”

Channel 4 news presenter Matt Frei joined in, saying: ‘@BarackObama just said he was on the emerald isles….’

Mr Obama’s comments came just before CNN’s Jim Scuitto called him “former President O’Biden”.



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