Salmond uses Burns in Obama offensive

ALEX SALMOND is attempting to form his own special relationship. The First Minister is trying to schmooze Barack Obama by inviting him to a glitzy Burns Supper in Washington, even suggesting that the President-elect shares some of the qualities of Scotland's national poet.

The First Minister is hopeful that the world's most powerful man will acknowledge his Scottish ancestry by sharing haggis, neeps and tatties with him during the events marking the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth. Salmond has yet to receive a reply from Obama, but he wants to meet him when he travels to the United States next month to promote the year of Homecoming, which aims to attract expat Scots back home.

Obama has also received an invitation from Salmond to come to Scotland for the Homecoming celebrations here.

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Whether a freshly inaugurated Obama would have time to fit in the Burns Supper or a visit to Scotland remains to be seen.

There is also the delicate diplomatic question of whether accepting Salmond's invitation would be interpreted as a tacit show of support for Scottish independence and a snub to Gordon Brown.

A highlight of Salmond's visit to Washington DC will be a major symposium on the life and works of Scotland's national poet, which will feature Scottish and US academics and scholars, and include a Burns Supper.

In an interview with Edinburgh University newspaper Student, Salmond admitted that he had sent the invitation but had yet to talk with Obama, who is supposed to be able to trace his ancestry to William the Lion, who ruled Scotland between 1165 and 1214. Obama's maternal ancestor, Edward FitzRandolph, emigrated to America in the 17th century.

When asked if he had spoken to the President-elect, Salmond replied: "I haven't actually, no, but I hope… he's got one or two things to do, but hopefully he'll be able to find the time, so we'll see what happens. We've (also] got a Burns supper in Washington in February which we're hoping he'll be able to come to."

Salmond recalled a television interview with Obama, in which the President-elect said the most important thing his grandmother, whose ancestors were Scottish, had taught him was 'empathy'.

"If, indeed, his Scottish-descending grandmother taught him empathy, then she's taught him a valuable thing which will stand him in incredibly good stead. That's also Robert Burns… one of his outstanding qualities… whether you're mouse or a louse or whatever, that's what Burns had."

The presence of Obama at the Homecoming would be a massive coup for Salmond.

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The event has been criticised for its tartan and shortbread approach, but Salmond said reintroducing expatriate Scots with their native land could play an important part in reversing Scotland's brain drain.

Salmond said Scotland had lost its "most educated, brightest, best people" under Westminster rule, adding: "If I was to put one single economic reason for Scottish independence, (it] is to reverse that flow of talent outwards, to provide the opportunity.

"Although Homecoming is often seen as a theme of getting a few tourists back for next year, it's a lot more than that. It's about a reconnection with a wider Scottish family… (It] could be a reconnection for an investment or… moving back or to have contact, a business or a leisure sense, or whatever. It's to re-emphasise and reconnect with that Scottish diaspora."

A spokesman for Obama's Transition Team, asked about Salmond's invitation, said: "There will not be a schedule announced until after Tuesday."