OpinionIran in the World PressTOM GALLAGHER: Salmond must shun Iran

TOM GALLAGHER: Salmond must shun Iran

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Sunday Times: Alex Salmond made a splash when he recently descended on the USA for Tartan Week. He schmoozed with congressmen and delivered pithy addresses to business and academic audiences, showing how Scotland had been a great improving force in the world and that possibly the best was yet to come. The Sunday Times

Salmond’s anti-English stance and courting of radical Muslims could turn Scotland into a new East Germany

Alex Salmond made a splash when he recently descended on the USA for Tartan Week. He schmoozed with congressmen and delivered pithy addresses to business and academic audiences, showing how Scotland had been a great improving force in the world and that possibly the best was yet to come.

There was not a word from Salmond about his deliberate strategy of embittering Anglo-Scottish relations by picking quarrels with London on numerous issues in the hope that they will polarise opinion in England against Scotland and lead to a backlash that will end the 300-year-old Union.

He was also silent about the astonishing tribute given to him by the Iranian regime that declared, through its ambassador in London, that their joint hostility to British imperialism provided the basis for a solid partnership between Edinburgh and Tehran.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, informed Germany that the Holocaust had not occurred nor should the state of Israel be allowed to exist, Berlin issued a prompt condemnation. But instead of condemning an Iranian regime, which is covertly arming thugs who have killed Scottish soldiers in Iraq, Salmond instead courts it and other dangerous regimes as when he lobbied Zimbabwe and Burma in his bid to get a seat at nuclear non-proliferation talks.

Under this slippery operator, the break-up of the United Kingdom would likely be a bleak moment for the West and a boon for the Iranian mullahs who cheer him on from Tehran.

The evidence is starting to mount up that the foreign policy of an SNP-led Scotland would be supremely opportunistic. Despotic but energy-rich states could expect overtures from Salmond if they would provide economic relief for his cash-strapped administration and boost its global standing, especially if relations with England had plunged into the deep freeze.

A look at how he operates at home reveals his penchant for making questionable alliances in order to drive forward the electoral ambitions of the SNP. He has courted radical voices that previously counted for little in Scotland’s 60,000-strong Muslim community because he believes they have the energy to deliver him a clutch of seats.

Osama Saeed, who has openly called for “a caliphate”, a pan-Islamic global state, has a serious chance of being elected for Glasgow Central when the failing Brown government finally calls a general election. Salmond doesn’t seem to care about the harm being done to the Muslim community by elevating someone such as Saeed, who last week was appointed to be a member of the Scottish government’s working group to look at the issue of Trident replacement.

Nor does he think of the damage being caused to the image of the city of Glasgow if a firebrand represents its most visible seat. It is one that includes the district of Pollokshields where the local police, educators, and some religious leaders are well aware of simmering ethnic tensions.

Scotland is supposed to be resoundingly pluralist with a cluster of parties vying for influence and keen to spot failings in each other. However, a timorous opposition fails to react when Salmond basks in plaudits from Iran, associates with Trent Lott – the founder of Tartan Week and a former US senator who once praised the political career of Strom Thurmond, the late champion of racial segregation – and reveals his longstanding friendship with Ian Paisley when the reverend was no friend of a compromise peace in Northern Ireland.

Salmond’s tragedy, and possibly Scotland’s also, is that his mastery of presentational politics has made him reckless in his tactics and aims. He treats his opponents with open contempt in a way that not even Margaret Thatcher dared do. This has lowered the tone of politics and it is likely that the angry and militant people who have flocked to the SNP will turn Scottish elections into a nasty affair.

Scotland is a country that is crying out for better government and for politicians who have the honesty to confront society’s ills. These are reflected in grim crime and health statistics and in the failure of education to offer a progressive pathway for youngsters in a lot of working-class communities blighted by economic decay.

I have sat often enough in the Scottish parliament to know that these issues take up a lot of its time. Scotland, with its heavily subsidised economy and crumbling social fabric, bears more comparison to the old East Germany than to a vibrant Ireland with a young, well-educated population and among Europe’s lowest taxes.

Ireland has recently stared into the abyss as speculators have tried to topple its financial system. Confronted with a similar challenge, a Scotland led by a cocky but inexperienced politician could face far worse turmoil if it turned its back on established partners near and far.

In order to keep afloat, millions of people rely on the liquidity of banks and the solvency of the state. I wonder how often Salmond thinks of vulnerable Scots when he appoints an Islamic zealot to a top Holyrood committee or fires off ingratiating letters to the leaders of Zimbabwe and Burma.

His reckless posturing on the world stage is sure to exact its price but, of course, he is unlikely to be the one to pay for it.

Tom Gallagher is professor of ethnic conflict and peace at the University of Bradford and a research fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC

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