Scottish independence leader won't be seen in public with Marois

EDINBURGH, Scotland – Scotland’s independence leader avoided the public spotlight as he was visited Tuesday by a counterpart — Quebec Premier Pauline Marois.

Scottish leader Alex Salmond did not attend a media event after the meeting, no news agency photographers were allowed in to photograph him with Marois, and his office downplayed the event.

A spokeswoman for Salmond described it as a simple “courtesy” meeting and said he had several similar ones also planned for Tuesday.

Marois blamed the protocol of the Scottish Parliament on Salmond not appearing in public with her. But had he wanted, Salmond could have held a joint news conference with the premier elsewhere, which did not occur.

Marois played down any apparent snub after what she called a ”very productive meeting.”

”That was the first meeting we had,” she said. ”During 45 minutes, we had the possibility to discuss many issues which are very interesting for us and for each party, for each government.

”We will have in the future shortly an agreement on some topics such as culture, economy, environmental issues and sustainable development.”

A referendum on Scottish independence is set for the fall of 2014.

Two reasons might explain Salmond’s no-show: he may not have wanted to alienate the Government of Canada, and he may not have been eager to be seen in public with the leader of a party that had lost its own independence votes, twice, in 1980 and 1995.

Speaking of the 1995 referendum, the topic came up when one Scottish nationalist parliamentarian did meet with the travelling media.

Linda Fabiani, the member of Parliament for East Kilbride, was asked about the 38-word question put to voters in the plebiscite over whether Quebec should leave Canada: “Do you accept that Quebec should become sovereign, after having formally offered Canada a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the legislation on the future of Quebec and the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”

Fabiani called the question “complicated.”

That question has actually returned to the public discussion, with a debate in Canada’s Parliament over the ground rules on Quebec independence and an NDP bill on the subject.

By way of comparison, the 10-word Scottish referendum question being proposed to the UK’s electoral commission is: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

Recent polls place Scottish support for independence at no higher than 30 per cent. Still, the UK commission has suggested that question is phrased in an unfair, “leading” way and should be shortened by two words, by replacing, “Do you agree…” with “Should…”

In a possible reference to the referendum-question issue, Marois and Salmond issued a joint statement that said the people of Quebec and Scotland have the exclusive right to determine their own future.

The statement also referred to the leaders’ determination to work on climate-change and renewable energy projects, and increase commercial ties.

Marois’ Scotland visit was described as a “failure” by Francois Legault, the leader of the opposition party Coalition avenir Quebec.