This afternoon I am going to watch the Dalai Lama deliver a speech at the Caird Hall in Dundee. I am not a Buddhist, I have to confess I don’t know a whole lot about Buddhism, but like the Pope, the Dalai Lama is someone you feel impelled to listen to despite not being a follower of his religion: you get the feeling that he might just say something that springs a light somewhere in the recesses of your mind. Maybe that’s just me. It’s just as likely that by visiting the Dalai Lama you have added another interesting anecdote to be recited at family dinners, weddings, or in awkward, boastful chit-chat.
This article isn’t really about the Dalai Lama, however. It’s about the way in which his visit has been politicised by certain members of Scotland’s political community. The SNP have not rolled out the red carpet, Alex Salmond has not returned early from a promotional trip to the US, and Nicola Sturgeon has, apparently, so shamefully not stepped in to welcome the Dalai Lama on our dear leader’s behalf. And Dundee City Council, the Lord Provost in particular, are – apparently – ‘panda’ ing to the Chinese. This is what Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie would have you believe.
Now, away from Willie Rennie’s fanciful projection of the world, what is really going on? The Dalai Lama is not on a state visit. Indeed, the Prime Minister nor anyone else from Westminster have met him, clearly accepting that this visit is ‘pastoral’ in nature. This is not a visit about Tibet, about Scotland’s relationship with a wide and diverse religious community, or about anything that would warrant the attention of politicians. In fact, I would go as far to say that politicians’ involvement would have detracted from the nature of the Dalai Lama’s visit.
Willie Rennie’s attacks have been most cutting towards the role – or, in his view, lack of a role – played by Dundee City Council. A relative of the Lord Provost tragically passed away this week, and yet Rennie has seen fit to lambast the Provost for not speaking at the event. Admittedly, Rennie has retracted a little and widened his attacks to the Council at large, but is this unfeeling, undignified jab at a man in grief indicative of Scotland’s political community? Are we so tribal that even the death of an opponent’s loved one can be used as legitimate political capital?
I can see it now. The Lib Dem’s PR agent hunched over the morning news stories and then, EUREKA, the SNP are not meeting the Dalai Lama. We can score points on this one. A little, quivering voice perhaps interjected that this was not entirely fair, pointed out the true nature of the Dalai Lama’s visit, and the circumstances surrounding the Lord Provost’s withdrawal from the event. But the desire to point score, even in the most severe and unfeeling of manners, overruled.
As I said at the beginning of this article, this is not about the Dalai Lama. And it is not to say I am entirely right, perhaps the Chinese have applied a little pressure on the SNP not to make more of the Dalai Lama’s visit than is necessary. But I’m sure I am not the only one to find Willie Rennie’s attacks on the SNP and, particularly, the Lord Provost, as more than a little unsavoury.