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INSIDE TRACK: Scotland must get over referendum navel-gazing

There's no getting away from the word referendum.

Last week while in eastern Ukraine I came across it spray-painted on walls and emblazoned on banners strung across the barricades of Donestsk and Sloviansk by pro-Russian separatists.

If truth be told, the referendum issue proved a useful get-out-of jail card whenever I was confronted by some baseball bat or Kalashnikov carrying thugs who saw me as just another western "spy" or "provocateur".

"Hold on", I would say to my accusers with mock incredulity, before insisting how much I empathised with their position, given my own country's impending hopes for national realignment.

I wasn't being truthful of course, simply trying to save my own skin by ingratiating myself to some fairly sinister people. These thugs after all would have thought nothing of leaving me blindfolded and beaten in some security service cell as they have done with other foreign and Ukrainian colleagues of late.

So that's my excuse. But what did First Minister Alex Salmond have in mind when he declared empathy with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his interview for GQ magazine with former Labour strategy director Alastair Campbell?

To give Mr Salmond his due, I do understand the context in which his remarks were made and indeed the accuracy of them. Yes, President Putin undoubtedly "carries support" in Russia and has "restored a substantial part of Russian pride," There are aspects of Russian constitutionality too as Mr Salmond says that are "obviously more difficult to admire".

My problem with this whole Salmond-Putin stooshie is not so much what was said, but when it was said.

Any thinking person knows that remarks about Mr Putin always need to be very carefully weighed and considered.

Given events unfolding in Crimea and eastern Ukraine that applies even more so now. And this too, before the obvious ammunition such remarks would inevitably provide for those political rivals opposed to independence.

Having had the audacity to tweet some of these observations this week I was duly rounded on by a host of myopic little Scotlander responses.

Some blithely said that Mr Salmond's remarks were made before the current Ukraine crisis, displaying a dismissal of the fact that Mr Putin's dubious record on human rights and other issues has been around for years.

As a correspondent friend with considerable knowledge of Russian affairs put it: "Putin has long been a toxic brand it's best to keep at arm's length."

As I said, it's not what has been said by the First Minister but its timing that bothers me. That, and the fact there exists a nationalist constituency - albeit mercifully small - that cannot admit when errors of judgment have been made.

The fact is, the world and its crises are bigger than just the independence debate. If Scotland is to take its rightful place alongside other nations it needs to get over this level of navel-gazing.

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