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Agenda: Scotland must reject comparisons with unfair referendum in Crimea

Scotland cannot let its referendum be used to justify Russia's sham vote in Crimea.

Last week the chairwoman of Russia's Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, accused the West of hypocrisy for criticising the Crimean vote, arguing it was no different from the Scottish independence referendum.

The vote in Crimea, according to Russia, is a democratic expression of the will of the Crimean people that has been facilitated swiftly, justly and effectively.

The new information minister of Crimea, Dmitry Polonsky, suggested Scotland and Catalonia should send fact-finding missions to learn from the Crimean referendum.

Many Western politicians may indeed dream of finding the secret to the kind of meteoric rise to power seen in the new Crimean government. The Russian nationalist party of the region's new leader, Sergey Aksenov, won a mere 4% of the vote in Crimea in the last elections, yet now controls the parliament.

European separatists may also envy the way the new authorities seem to have dramatically shifted opinion about joining Russia in the region from about 30-40% in polls from recent years to almost 100%.

Sadly for any politicians in the West who might think they could pick up some hints from the new Crimean authorities, most of the principal tactics that appear to have been used in the vote are not available in modern-day Europe: monopolisation of the media, armed invasion by a neighbouring state, masked gunmen overseeing parliamentary procedure, forcing elected politicians to resign, only opening polling stations in areas that will vote yes, suggesting how voters should vote on sample ballots, allowing foreign citizens to vote, banning all recognized international observation organisations, providing two options that virtually amount to the same thing, and so on.

Despite the blatantly undemocratic nature of the Crimean referendum, pro-Russian media and politicians have repeatedly compared it to cases like Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque region and Kosovo.

This argument ignores the important fact that the initiative for autonomy or independence referenda in the cited cases came from within these places, from democratically elected politicians, assemblies and parliaments, and involved open and exhaustive debates and democratic processes.

Examples of small nations and territories that insist on having a say on their own destinies will continue to be used by Russia as reference points for the Crimean vote, and may be used in reference to other areas in future - Eastern Ukraine, Transnistria, or in renewed efforts from Russia to destabilise Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Given Scotland is being held up as part of Russia's rhetorical strategy to justify its illegal incursions into foreign states, it seems reasonable to expect those involved in the Scottish independence debate to make their position clear. A strong message of condemnation from Scotland could serve as a useful counter against Russia's abuse of the very concept of self-determination.

Scotland, if it decides to become independent, will be precisely that, and it will have chosen that status freely. Crimea has taken its "decision" in a rushed process shrouded in poisonous propaganda and with Russian troops on the streets.

The Crimean referendum is a serious violation of the rights of Crimeans to free and fair elections, and the "Yes" vote was as the result of propaganda, intimidation and abuse of process. The Scottish political elite should not allow the use of the Scottish referendum to justify this.

Scotland can and should stand up and disavow the abuse of its own discussion over independence by Russia. It is incumbent on all politicians involved, but especially the SNP, to condemn what has happened in Crimea, to support Ukraine's territorial integrity, and to offer Scotland as an example of how discussions over self-determination can and should be carried out: freely, fairly, and peacefully.

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Local government

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