We are all used to seeing Alex Salmond jetting off round the world to meet foreign dignitaries. He’s off to California soon, Hollywood no less, among other places, to “promote Scotland’s interests”. He’s at a film premiere tonight, mixing with the rich and famous – as he seems to like doing. Let’s not forget his mates Murdoch, Connery and Brian Souter and his former bff Donald Trump. Our globe-trotting First Minister has also been to China, the Gulf States and Norway in the past year. If he’s bringing the money in by promoting Scottish products to foreign businesses, then fair enough, I suppose.It would be good to have a balance sheet on that so we can judge for ourselves, though.
Given that Salmond is so keen to meet anyone he can, it’s quite perplexing that he can’t find the time to meet the Dalai Lama during his forthcoming visit to Scotland. You have to ask yourself why. Could it be anything to do with the fact that such a meeting would upset the Chinese? I would be disappointed if that were the case. I have a pretty good hunch that he backs the rights of the people of Tibet to self determination. David Cameron and Nick Clegg took some grief from the Chinese over their meetings with the Dalai Lama so why shouldn’t Salmond do the same?
Salmond will be back from his US trip while the Dalai Lama is here. It would be good if he could find a space in his diary to spend some time with him.
Willie Rennie certainly seems to think so. Yesterday he said:
This is a missed opportunity. By failing to meet with the globally respected spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the First Minister may leave the impression that he is more concerned with pandering to the diktat of the Chinese government than promoting human rights. We ignore China’s human rights record at our peril. I appreciate that China would be sensitive about such a meeting but the First Minister should stand up for what’s important. People from across Scotland have waited six years to meet with His Holiness. The cities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Inverness have all noted their enthusiasm towards welcoming him into their streets and town halls.
Either Mr Salmond has completely misjudged the importance of this event, or he has shown once more that he is too afraid of “rocking the boat.” Last week we saw the First Minister continue to defend Mr Murdoch’s Empire. This week we are seeing his obsession with powerful people continue. I call upon the First Minister to recognise that it is in Scotland’s best interests for him to honour this historic event and show respect for his position by meeting with the Dalai Lama
If Salmond does not meet the Dalai Lama, it could be construed, not least by the Chinese themselves, as panda-ing to them a subject I wrote about when our furry zoo friends were first announced. I’m reminded of what Shabnum Mustapha, Director of Amnesty Scotland, said when Salmond was in China at the tail end of last year – that, yes, the Chinese would have the diplomatic equivalent of a bit of a strop when human rights were mentioned, but there was evidence that repression did reduce as a result. Offending the Chinese authorities is therefore not a bad thing to do, whether it’s about the Dalai Lama or human rights.