Ukraine-Russia war: How can Scottish nationalists use the suffering of innocent people to promote independence? – Murdo Fraser MSP

There are so many emotions we feel when we watch the harrowing images of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Anguish for the pain and suffering so many Ukrainians are enduring. Awe at the courage and fearlessness they are displaying. Shame that humanity in Europe is at this stage again, and that whatever we do, none of us can ever do enough to help.

That said, we can be grateful for the incredible and heart-warming response from our own country. I spent some time last week, along with other volunteers, sorting and packing boxes of donated items to go to refugees in Poland – sleeping bags, blankets, baby food, medical supplies.

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The Disasters Emergency Committee reported over £100 million was raised by them from across the United Kingdom in just a few days. The scale of the donations, whether in kind or in cash, has been overwhelming.

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But there is one sense that few of us feel within us as we see images of the agony of Ukraine, and that is a sense of opportunity. It is distasteful for someone to look at the pictures of families fleeing to escape the clutches of Putin’s thugs, and think: “I can exploit this.” But that, sadly, seems to have been the reaction of some within the leadership group of the Scottish National Party.

Party president – and former Scottish Government minister – Michael Russell looked at the pictures of Russian tanks defying international law and rolling into a sovereign state, saw missiles fly into blocks of flats, and clearly felt he could draw an analogy between Scotland’s position in the United Kingdom, and the invasion of Ukraine. To say that was offensive would be an understatement. It was a distortion of which Putin’s propagandists would be proud.

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It may distress Russell that for more than three centuries Scotland has chosen to form a partnership with our neighbours, a decision that was reaffirmed in the 2014 referendum, but that does not mean that he can tacitly equate pro-UK Scots to apologists for a dictator like Putin when he invades an innocent sovereign state.

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A Ukrainian refugee is comforted by a journalist at Zahony train station in Hungary (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

And, given Putin’s involvement in that referendum on the Yes side, together with the continued connection of the former SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond with Putin’s TV channel Russia Today, it is staggering that Russell thought that an appropriate comparison.

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Ukraine voted democratically to remain outwith Putin’s Russia. Scots voted democratically to stay in the United Kingdom despite Russian interference. Neither Putin nor Russell seem have any regard for referendum results if they do not fit their agenda.

Russell’s ‘little Scotlander’ outlook is worse than saying that Ukraine is a faraway land of which he knows little. He sees the pain of the people in a faraway land and decides it is something of which he can make much in his own. It makes him look absurd, and offensively so. As the world unites in solidarity with Ukraine, for Russell to raise his hand and claim any similarity with Scotland is surely beyond the pale.

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He is not alone in the SNP is trying to make these links. The MSP Michelle Thomson made a similar comparison on social media, before the outcry forced her to delete it and apologise. Stirling MP Alyn Smith led a delegation of SNP MPs to Kyiv. They offered little but blogs, quotes, selfies and press releases. It seemed they too came not to ask what they could do for Kyiv, but to ask what Kyiv could do for their profiles.

Residents of Irpin, Ukraine, flee heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces enter the city on Monday (Picture: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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While Ukraine looks noble in its defiance and its pain, Scotland is made to look false and feeble by the SNP’s comparisons. It is not just that their analysis is flawed, they don’t actually have one. In any argument, their conclusion is the same as their starting point – the UK is bad. Any country facing oppression from a foreign foe is just like Scotland, as they try to build their narrative of ‘Scotland the Wronged’.

They wrong the people of Scotland with the paucity of their case. They belittle the plight of the suffering, and insult the people of Scotland by suggesting they would fall for such analogies. Far from standing proud on the international stage, they make Scotland look like a land of clowns.

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Foreign policy is not as simple as offering a free iPad to every schoolchild until the local news cycle moves on – even though they will seldom arrive. Nationalists are fond of arguing that secession is a sign of maturity. But when the leaders of our devolved administration try to step onto the international stage, all too often what they demonstrate is embarrassing immaturity.

I am proud to say I stand with the Ukrainian people. I am proud of the support my own local community and communities throughout Scotland are showing for those in peril. When humanity seems absent from the Kremlin, I am glad it looks bountiful around the globe.

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But the delusional nationalism of Vladimir Putin, expressed through the bomb, the bullet, and the missile, means that none of us will be able to do enough to help, and perhaps we should reflect on our collective inaction which may have contributed to what is happening now. What we do not need to do is add our own version of delusional nationalism to a situation that is so tragic and so grave.

Generations of Ukrainians will mourn for their dead, whatever happens to resolve this crisis. The scars will run deep. Instead of manufacturing some of our own, perhaps we should give thanks that the only scars our neighbours inflict on us are from the sports field.

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Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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