Politicians respond to Dundee City Council’s Dalai Lama ‘snub’
Politicians have called on Dundee City Council to show support for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland.
A row escalated on Wednesday after it was reported that Dundee’s new Lord Provost Bob Duncan had cancelled a speech due to be given during the appearance of the Tibetan spiritual leader at the Caird Hall.
The Dalai Lama will deliver a lecture to a sold-out crowd at the venue on Friday as part of his visit to Scotland which also takes in Edinburgh and Inverness.
The SNP councillor for Lochee has said the move is not “political” but due to a family bereavement meaning he will not be able to attend the event. He denied he is “snubbing” the Dalai Lama but declined to comment further.
The co-ordinator of the Scottish visit, Victor Spence, said there is unhappiness among those close to the Dalai Lama at the way the situation has been handled.
He said: “I have always admired the respect Dundee University has shown His Holiness. On Dundee Council, they are only answerable to the community that they say they serve.”
First minister Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, has been fiercely criticised for not arranging to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit, and faced claims he is failing to confront human rights issues to protect his relationship with China.
Now politicians have called on a senior representative from the council to speak in Cllr Duncan’s place.
Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “For an event of such significance Dundee City Council need to provide a speaker. I can understand why the Provost is not available but it would be a mistake for a senior representative of the council to be absent from the speakers.
“The Council were once full partners in the event but, following a visit from the Chinese consul, they are distancing themselves.The Council need to speak at and fully support the event or we will conclude they have been nobbled by the Chinese government. The SNP have put their interests above human rights.”
Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for external affairs Patricia Ferguson said: “This is a very sad development. I can’t think of similar situation ever having occurred in Scotland. Scotland is a welcoming, open and tolerant country and to withdraw support for a visit from an important religious figure like this is very confusing.
“The Dalai Lama, as an important religious figure, is widely recognised as an international ambassador for peace. I am sure he will be as confused by this snub as everyone else in Scotland. It looks like the SNP administration at Dundee City Council has been nobbled by the SNP government.”
Labour MSP for North East Scotland, Jenny Marra, said: “It is unfortunate that the Lord Provost cannot make the speech to welcome the Dalai Lama because of a bereavement. The SNP should get their most senior Dundee politician, like government Minister Shona Robison, to step in and make the welcoming speech in the Caird Hall.
“This would be an appropriate welcome to the Dalai Lama in the absence of the Lord Provost. The SNP Council and Government must make it clear to the Dali Lama that he is welcome in Dundee and Scotland. It is their civic and political duty to do so.”
Human rights charity Amnesty International have also been critical of the city council’s move.
Shabnum Mustapha, programme director for Amnesty International in Scotland, said: “It is appalling and very worrying if Dundee City Council has ‘withdrawn’ its support for the Dalai Lama’s visit to its city due to pressure from the Chinese Government.
“Amnesty has again and again highlighted China’s questionable human rights record, including its continued restriction on freedom of expression – and it seems that this censorship has now reached our shores. To think that our own publicly-elected officials would bow to pressure of this kind is unthinkable, and we would urge Dundee City Council to reconsider their decision.
“It is also very disappointing that it appears no one from the Scottish Government, including the First Minister, is able to welcome the Dalai Lama as he embarks on his visit to Scotland. His visit to our country should serve as yet another opportunity for our government to put the spotlight on human rights abuses in China. Instead it seems that economics trump human rights when it comes to Scotland’s growing relationship with the world’s second largest economy.
“The Scottish Government should be welcoming this opportunity to support the Dalai Lama, an important spiritual figure who symbolises the movement for non-violent self-determination for an oppressed people. Throughout China, freedom of expression continues to be restricted by the authorities and re-education through labour camps continue to operate. And the Chinese government has displayed increasingly repressive behaviour in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet.”