WALTER Bagehot, I would surmise, is not as renowned today as once he was. Even the gentle fun of trying to pronounce his surname is a lost art.

Bagehot was a journalist but also an expert on governance. He wrote a book entitled The English Constitution. (He meant British but afford him some slack.)

In this tome, Bagehot drew a distinction between the “dignified” and the “efficient” sectors of the realm. Top of the pile for dignity was the monarch, then Queen Victoria. Heading the efficiency drive was the Cabinet.

I thought of Bagehot when contemplating COP26 in Glasgow. I believe he may help us to discern where power truly lies and, equally importantly, where it does not.

It is a perhaps a year or so since you first thrilled to Walter’s prose. So let me refresh your memory.

On the dignified bit, he said that was needed “to excite and preserve the reverence of the population”. Orwell might have called that contenting the proles.

And efficiency? That built upon the role of dignified monarchy, to “employ that homage in the work of government”.

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Now, I do not pretend that we can apply these precise terms to COP26, particularly as the Glasgow event is so massive and complex, in terms of space, intellectual scope and diverse participation.

We have had the contributions from the global leaders, followed by the continuing Blue Zone discourse; overt debate plus detailed negotiation in pursuit of agreement.

There is the Green Zone based around the Science Centre on the south side of the Clyde; a decidedly impressive Fringe with talks, exhibitions and public interaction.

Then there are the demonstrations and protests, increasingly voluble and drawing enhanced police attention. Further, there is a myriad of related events around the city.

My Herald podcast this week focused entirely on COP26 (with the exception of an opening discussion on the resignation of Owen Paterson, which happened minutes before we went live.)

In that podcast, each of the political participants had stories to tell of events or discussions they had experienced. David Bol of The Herald joined the show directly from the Blue Zone.

For Glasgow and Scotland, this global event is all-encompassing. However, to revisit Orwell, while all have the potential to be equally engaged by COP, some are decidedly more equal than others.

So where does power lie? Glancing back to Bagehot, we may exclude monarchy from the outset. Sadly, Her Majesty the Queen took medical advice and eschewed the personal visit she had planned, sending a recorded message instead.

The Royal hosts at the summit dinner in Kelvingrove were the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, Prince Charles and Camilla; together with Prince William and Catherine.

Prince Charles has a lifelong interest in the environment and William shows signs of matching his father’s enthusiasm. Their endeavours attract attention.

So global leaders will nod sagely as and when the princes proffer their opinions or advice. But it means little. The Royals remain entrenched in Bagehot’s dignified redoubt.

I have been struck too by the minimal involvement of religion in this summit. COP26 is, after all, about the future of humankind. You would think that faith organisations might have a role.

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Perhaps it would have been different if His Holiness the Pope had attended in person. But I doubt it.

COP26 comprises scientists, sceptics and schemers, among others. Each has a reason to focus upon the here and now, while arguing over impending threats. The ever-after can wait, while delegates in Glasgow seek to postpone our physical immolation.

The role of religion was scarcely assisted by the Archbishop of Canterbury who had to apologise after suggesting that failure on the question of climate change would attract greater opprobrium than accompanied the Nazis in the 1930s.

Why is it always the Nazis? Why do people, seeking to amplify an argument, turn so swiftly to Hitler, thoughtlessly and crassly? In search, presumably, of impact. It always backfires.

Without deploying such desperate comparisons, demonstrators in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere are also seeking attention for their case. They march, they chant, they cajole, they confront.

I firmly believe in the role of peaceful public protest. I believe, equally, that it is most effective when it is authentic, measured and precisely targeted.

In essence, it is mass lobbying, seeking by public demonstration to persuade the elected and the otherwise powerful to pursue or abandon a particular policy. Most of the demos attending COP fit that pattern exactly and are to be welcomed.

However, some of the demonstrations may have developed a life of their own, distinct from persuasion. The object, of itself, is gaudy display. The aim, to disrupt daily life or to penetrate security; a self-contained purpose, quite apart from the conferring at COP.

That does not of itself make these events invalid. They may be seeking, for example, to project an alternative lifestyle, rather than to modify existing society. But we should reflect on the differing and limited nature of demos.

Which brings me finally to the political leaders. Adapting Bagehot, they mostly want to content the population. Equally, they are leery of precise pledges, aware of economic interest groups in their own territory. Which can prompt popular suspicion.

Boris Johnson seems acutely alert to this credibility issue. He even said that, if we would not listen to him, then we should heed Sir David Attenborough, who addressed delegates and premiered a new BBC programme in the Green Zone.

Mr Johnson yearns to be able to declare COP26 a measurable success. He wants to divert our attention away from the caveats.

Nicola Sturgeon has a different dilemma. Potentially confined to the fringe by her devolved status, she has nonetheless contrived to sustain a substantial presence, meeting President Biden and making significant policy announcements.

I suspect that, ultimately, all the leaders will find that this issue of climate change is moving beyond their control. That a combination of scientific imperative and youthful popular pressure will enforce and accelerate action, whatever those caveats at Glasgow.

Walter Bagehot today would find that power lies in an awkward interstice between the dignified and the efficient.

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