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As Others See Us: the view from Argentina

You can be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Or, worse, like David Cameron, you can find yourself jammed “between Scotland and the Malvinas”. That, at least, is the way the Argentinian press sees Britain’s prime minister.

Because - and I don’t think I am overstating this - three decades after the nasty little war over the Falklands there is still an air of schadenfreude in reports out of the South American giant on Scottish independence.

Tempers over the disputed islands have flared up over the last year just as our referendum becomes a major international story. Some Argentinian editors can’t resist linking the sovereignty of both Scotland and the Falklands.

Take El Tribuno from Salta. “As the dispute over the Malvinas heats up, David Cameron is facing a bigger challenge at the very heart of his home front,” it reported (gleefully, I thought) last year.

“In historical terms, the separation of Scotland from Great Britain would represent a traumatic blow to British territorial integrity,” El Tribuno declared before raising the prospect of the United Kingdom being “reduced to England” after Irish unification and Welsh independence.

“British public opinion sees Scottish independence as sign of national decline,” it added.

This - and I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong - is pretty typical fare from news media that quite like the idea of the UK going to the dogs.

Clarín, Argentina’s biggest paper, has reported Alex Salmond’s independence campaign as a “headache” for Cameron “as he defends the rights of the Malvinas islanders to belong to the British crown”.

Its arch rival, the more conservative La Nación, has taken a tougher line, presenting David Cameron’s UK as besieged by “internal rebellions and external challenges”, including Scottish nationalism and Conservative Euroscepticism.

“Cameron,” La Nación reported, “could take office as prime minister of Great Britain, a full member of the European Union, and leave Downing Street as leader of a Little Britain without Scotland, part of a ‘second division’ group in the EU.”

Schadenfreude? I think so.

But there is more to Argentina’s attitude to Scottish independence than glee over London’s misfortunes. Scots are going to vote on whether they want to be sovereign in 2014. But not before Falklanders do so this year.

Argentina is not happy about that referendum. They don’t think islanders (or Kelpers as they are disparagingly referred to in Argentinian papers) have a right to self-determination after occupying the islands 180 years ago this month. Cameron, of course, has championed such a vote.

La Nación initially said the Prime Minister’s “declamations in favour of the self- determination of both the Falklands and Gibraltar had been denounced in Scotland as hypocritical as they coincided with threats to veto the Scottish referendum”.

That accusation, of course, can’t stand now that Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond have signed the Edinburgh Agreement to have a legally binding and internationally recognisable referendum.

But Argentina is no friend of independence movements. Like Spain, Greece and Russia, it refused, for example, to recognise Kosovo after the former Serbian province declared itself unilaterally independent. Why? Because of the Falklands.

There have been some pretty odd stories about Scotland and the Falklands. The Sun last year reported that Argentina’s populist president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was going to “court” Scottish support for her country’s claims to the Malvinas.

That provoked a bizarre story in Press TV - Iran’s English-language mouthpiece. It said “unconfirmed sources” had “disclosed” that Salmond was considering a Scottish claim over the Falklands.

One last South American take, this time from across the River Plate from Buenos Aires in the Uruguay. A columnist in Montevideo-based El Observador said anti-Argentinian rhetoric in Britain served to “distract citizens” from Scottish nationalism and EU rows.

“With such problems,” he said, “which are far more important for British commerce and identity than the Falklands conflict, it is absurd to concentrate media attention on islands in the South Atlantic.”

UK media, of course, have heavily linked the growing war on words with problems facing Kirchner, who just a year after being re-elected is facing serious economic problems.

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