OPPOSITION parties have criticised Scotland’s external affairs minister Humza Yousaf, claiming he has drawn “crass” and “irresponsible” comparisons between the Arab Spring and Scotland’s own constitutional journey.
Mr Yousaf was today addressing the Doha Forum, which hosts discussions on democracy, development and free trade in the Middle East, during a visit to Qatar to promote links with Scotland.
Although the minister said the political situation in Scotland cannot be directly compared with that of the Arab Spring countries, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were quick to condemn his remarks.
In his address, Mr Yousaf said: “We cannot directly compare the situation in Scotland or the UK today with the situation in new democracies in the Middle East. However, I think that there are lessons that we can learn to mutual benefit.
“In Scotland we need to do more to increase participation, especially of young people, in our politics.
“We need to learn more about how we can use digital media as a means of consulting with the youth, to make young people feel more engaged.
“The challenges for the new democracies are many and varied.
“However, in our experience, a framework that is respectful of the views of others and respects social and political freedoms can help frame the environment in which peaceful transition can take place.
“More importantly than anything it must be inclusive of women, young people, minorities and even of our opponents.
“It is this approach that led to the historic Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and UK government to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, and a commitment to work together in the best interests of the people regardless of the result.”
Responding to the speech, Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Comparing the drive for democracy which inspired the Arab Spring to the possibility of a separate Scotland is irresponsible and simply ludicrous.
“Inexperienced junior ministers, trying to draw similarities such as this, makes the Yes campaign look even more flaky and desperate than it already is.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “It is crass naivety to compare the life and death struggles endured in the Arab Spring with the democratic, open referendum process agreed between the Scottish and UK governments.
“The United Kingdom is a democracy, not a dictatorship, and George Square is not Tahrir Square.
“Humza Yousaf probably got carried away in the heat of the moment but we need cool, calm heads to represent the United Kingdom on the world stage.”
Mr Yousaf was invited to speak at the forum as part of a three-day visit to Doha.
He has also undertaken a series of meetings exploring how the Scottish and Qatari governments can build co-operation particularly around energy, culture and international development.
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