ALEX Salmond has been accused of grandstanding and trying to “hollow out” the role of the UK Government after he led an SNP delegation to Tehran in an attempt to bolster economic and cultural links between Scotland and Iran.
The Nationalists’ spokesman on foreign affairs at Westminster, was accompanied by parliamentary colleagues on the mission, which lasted a number of days and involved talks not only with Iranian ministers covering foreign affairs, education, agriculture and energy but also with the Governor of the Iranian Central Bank.
According to the Tehran-based Tasnim news agency the former First Minister told Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, that Scotland’s “ruling party has always been against the decisions Westerners make against Iran and believes these decisions, which have caused many problems for Iran as well as other countries, are fundamentally wrong”.
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After returning home, Mr Salmond stressed how the international agreement with Iran and its rapprochement with the West was the single most positive development in international relations over the last year.
A similar mission is planned for the spring.
“Now that Iran has taken these steps forward to return to international community, many countries have been pursuing the prospect of a new market-place for their goods and a new trading partner.
“It is vital that Scotland is not left behind as our key strengths, particularly in education, agricultural technology and oil and gas and finance, are precisely what Iran will find useful after 25 years of sanctions.”
He added: “By establishing a dialogue based on the sound Scottish principle of enlightened self-interest, we are building a partnership that will serve both countries well for the future.”
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, the former Scottish Secretary, said: “It has been the strategy of the SNP since 2007 to hollow out the role of the UK Government in Scottish public life and this is just the latest example of that.
“Scotland can take advantage of improved and improving relations with Iran and other countries and that is done through the Foreign Office.
“Building relations with a country, which has the recent history of Iran, is a delicate and finely nuanced business and many people will wonder whether Alex Salmond is best-placed to do a job like that,” added the MP for Orkney and Shetland.
Labour’s George Foulkes suggested Mr Salmond was trying to usurp the role of Foreign Secretary.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent really. Relations between Britain and Iran are improving but are still delicate. For someone like Salmond to go could create tremendous problems. It’s very unwise.”
The former Scotland Office Minister insisted the ex-FM was trying to promote Scotland abroad as already being an independent country and added: “Salmond is also trying to carve out a new role for himself now that he is no longer party leader and has been eclipsed by Sturgeon. But it is a dangerous one.”
Meantime, a senior Conservative source said the Iranian trip looked like an “exercise in Alex feeling self-important again”.
He added the Gordon MP “forlornly wants others to see him as he sees himself; still a big fish in the international pond”.
Mr Salmond led a delegation of six, who included fellow SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the party’s trade and investment spokeswoman, and SNP MSP Bill Kidd, who co-chairs a parliamentary group for nuclear disarmament.
Also on the delegation was Azzam Mohammad, director of the Ahl Al Bait Society in Scotland, whose knowledge of Iran and the Middle East was influential in staging the visit.
The SNP explained the delegation was invited by, and hosted by, the Iranian Parliament who paid for all expenses during the trip. The travel costs, however, were met by the SNP Westminster Group.
The mission will pave the way for an education and business delegation in the spring, which will then be reciprocated by a similar group from Iran to Scotland.
In July after 20 months of negotiation, the so-called P5+1 – the UK, US, France, China, Russia and Germany - struck a deal to lift international sanctions against Iran in return for Tehran curbing sensitive nuclear activities, which it insists are for entirely peaceful purposes.