FIFTY years ago this month French President,General De Gaulle, stood on the balcony of Montreal City Hall’s and shouted “Vive Le Quebec Libre” to the delight of Quebec nationalists but the consternation of Canadian officials. Prime Minister Lester Pearson was incandescent and General De Gaulle cut short his visit.

It’s inconceivable that Justin Trudeau, the current Canadian PM, would have commented on Scottish independence in such a way when he was in Edinburgh seeing the Queen last week. His father, Pierre Trudeau, was Canadian Justice Minister back then. Incidents such as De Gaulle’s are rare indeed, going against the normal rules of international diplomacy.

That’s why the First Minister won’t comment on the forthcoming referendum on Catalonian independence, other than to make some general blandishments about democracy and respecting the outcome. Many SNP members will be hoping for a “Si” vote but the Scottish Government won’t publicly support their cause. Motions in Parliament by backbenchers and sympathy from the wider party are understandable, comments by a government quite another.

For other than exceptional incidents, such as that five decades ago, international affairs is all about the self-interest of your own nation. Whatever you may think of the righteousness of another cause you stay out of it. That’s at its most stark when condemnation and lamentation are given, but nothing done even when the behaviour is truly repugnant. Soviet invasions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were just that, as have been some actions by the United States and others. However, your own state interests dictate you do little beyond that.

Why risk anything for something that’s neither your fight nor likely to have little benefit for you? It’s also far greater than just the personal whim of powerful leaders. The state interests of the US are bigger than the personal views of the President. Donald Trump will discover that with regard to Russia. Moreover, Theresa May will find out likewise over a trade deal with the US. The Americans’ interests lie in trade with the EU more than with the UK. The interests of the US are bigger than the whims of any President.

The Irish have increased the warmth of their friendship with Scotland post the Brexit vote. That, though, is simply reflective of turning up the pressure on the UK. Other European capitals have behaved likewise. But, it’s far from supporting Scottish independence and they’ll revert to neutrality when another referendum comes. That will be despite calls by some Scottish politicians for our opposition to Brexit to be repaid by the EU.

Holidaying in Catalonia myself just a few weeks ago, Catalan flags were prominent, though the vote remains too close to call. I’ve sympathy for any nation seeking self-determination and am appalled at the intransigence of the Spanish Government and its corruption, but it’s still a matter for the Catalan people. Scotland cannot afford to irritate the Spanish authorities, never mind the fact it would be of little benefit and that we have negligible influence. Moreover, despite many Unionists suggesting that Spain would block Scottish independence, that country remained scrupulously neutral during our own vote in 2014.

There was little external involvement in 2014 despite the desire of both sides. When David Cameron panicked in the last week he managed to persuade President Obama to tweet his doubts, years before he managed to find us on the map and make a flying visit. Right wing Prime Ministers Harper of Canada and Abbott of Australia made some asides, but they were of little consequence.

More serious were comments by Jose Barroso, then President of the EU Commission, about the difficulty Scotland might face in joining the EU. He was no doubt expressing the fears of the UK PM as well as the concerns of himself and other commissioners about the consequences for the EU. He had form for supporting allies, as when Portuguese leader he hosted George W Bush and Tony Blair for the planning of the Iraq war. Schadenfreude, perhaps, when the Brexit referendum put both UK and the EU into tailspin.

Nothing but good wishes were ever expected for the Yes campaign and that’s how it panned out, with, for example, the Irish privately supportive but publicly doing nothing. Others were also sympathetic but remained silent. More importantly though, potential hostile forces such as Spain were neutralised. They respected international diplomacy but were mindful of their own interests in avoiding unwanted precedents.

Of course, ordinary folk can say and do what they want. Young Quebecois leafleted doors in east Edinburgh during the Scottish independence referendum. Some Scots might do likewise in Barcelona in coming weeks, despite linguistic challenges. But that’s as far as it’ll go. Catalonia’s battle is for her alone as was Scotland’s.

It is interesting and of huge importance but international affairs are all about vested state self-interest.