Blustering Mr President

Linda’s latest East Kilbride News Column – 25.01.2017

 

Burns season is upon us and I am looking forward to my first local event at Mossneuk Primary School on Friday, and my last local event at Kilbryde Burns Club on 6th February. Lots of others in-between-times too, so much haggis will be consumed!

 

Tam O’Shanter’s wife:

 

“ … tauld thee weel thou was a skellum, a blethering, blustering, … … blellum!”

 

On Friday last this seemed an apt description when I watched some of the inauguration ceremony of the new President of the US. I thought his speech was the most inappropriate such peroration I’d ever heard, and the embarrassment of some of the platform guests was palpable. I’m still finding it difficult to comprehend that the United States of America has elected Donald Trump as one of the leaders of the free world. The offensiveness with which he has offered opinion and potential policy over the last months appals me.

 

That got me thinking about diplomacy – one relevant definition is “the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations”. Another though is “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility”. That’s the one that Mr Trump may well find difficult. It is a skill, diplomacy at world stage level, and so very important.

 

I have been privileged over the years in my career as a politician to observe diplomacy at work, and even to exercise it at times at fairly high levels: Working with both partners in the Northern Ireland Government when it was reformed in 2007, having to deal with UK Government Ministers as part of the minority Scottish Government, being involved in Catalan politics. All great experiences which I am so glad I had.

 

I learned a lot from Alex Salmond, First Minister at that time. Alex is a first-class statesman who taught me that you could exercise diplomacy on behalf of your community, your cause, or indeed your country, whilst still leaving no doubt about your views. Thus, one can condemn the Israeli Government’s actions in relation to the illegal settlements without anger and hostility towards Jewish people; thus, protesting about the medieval justice system of Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean that one condemns the religion of Islam.

 

My colleagues and I had a bit of a discussion at work last week about what we would do if the new President of the USA visited our Parliament. I copped out stating that as Deputy Presiding Officer it would be the Presiding Officer who would have to exercise the diplomacy! The thought bothers me though – I certainly have no desire to meet that man, and would not voluntarily attend any event at which he was present. If he does visit Scotland, I may well have a difficult, diplomatic, decision to make.

 

Of course, for the likes of our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, such a choice is not always an option. The relationship between the United States and Scotland is long-standing and many faceted – family, culture, business, and our First Minister’s actions must reflect that. I thought Nicola’s comment, just following the US election, summed it up rather well, when she said:

 

“ …I believe that it is important for all politicians, at this moment in our history, to stand up and be counted on important principles of tolerance, respect and diversity. I will not shy away from doing that. I hope that Donald Trump builds an Administration that is founded on those principles. If he does that, we can continue to ensure that the close relationship gets even closer in future.”

 

I hope so too. I hope that President Trump does rein back and undergo some kind of ‘Damascene conversion’ in relation to his views about women, his behaviour towards disability, and his intolerance to those not of his culture. I hope that if he is visiting Scotland and I do have to meet him, then I don’t feel I need to raise human-rights issues with him like I would with the Chinese Ambassador re Tibet, or an Indonesian delegation about the atrocities in West Papua.

 

I hope that President Trump, who likes to talk about his Hebridean roots, taks tent of Scotland’s national bard, and considers:

 

“O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us, to see oursels as others see us”.

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