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by a Newsnet reporter

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is currently on a trip to the Gulf, where he met Qatari leaders.  During his meeting the First Minister commented on similarities between Qatar and Scotland, a reference to the fact that both are small nations with large petroleum resources.  The First Minister will also be visiting the United Arab Emirates.  The goal of the trip is to promote awareness of Scottish business and industry amongst Gulf leaders.

Speaking in Doha, the capital of Qatar, the First Minister said:  "As nations, we both have considerable expertise in oil and gas production but as we look to the future and a low-carbon economy, we must increasingly develop new technologies.

"We discussed the remarkable similarities between our respective nations.  Although both Scotland and Qatar have common strengths in the oil and gas sector, we are both seeking to develop our low carbon energy industries.  This is where Qatar's focus on becoming a global knowledge hub links well with Scotland's considerable reputation as a world-leading education nation.

However Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has used the visit to launch an outrageous attack on Scottish independence and on the Qatari hosts of the First Minister, insulting both the First Minister and his hosts and undermining attempts to promote Scottish business interests in a key part of the global economy.  

Rennie published the accompanying image on his own Facebook page with the caption "A glimpse into Salmond's independent Scotland perhaps?"  The Lib Dems' official Twitter account later sent a message about the image, which also appeared on the official Scottish Lib Dem Facebook page.  The image, showing a mock up of what appears to be a 'darkened' or unshaven First Minister in Arab head-dress next to a camel, could be construed as racist.  The accompanying text makes three outright lies about the First Minister in an attempt to scare voters into voting against Scottish independence.

The image clearly alleges that the First Minister is homophobic.  However Alex Salmond has made clear his support for lesbian and gay rights and has spoken in favour of the introduction of gay and lesbian marriage on a par with heterosexual marriage.  

The image also implies that Alex Salmond intends to set himself up as a dictator in an independent Scotland, an outrageous, and possibly defamatory, statement to make about a democratic politician.

The SNP is opposed to the death penalty and has been consistently against capital punishment since before the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

Damage may have been caused to relations between Scotland and key Gulf states as a result of Rennie's posts.  In recent months Unionist politicians have shown that they are not afraid to damage Scotland's standing and reputation abroad in order to score a cheap political point in the Unionist media back home.  Last year Iain Grey, leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, insulted the people and government of Montenegro.

Coming just a few days after Iain Grey launched into a vituperative attack on "cybernats", the image posted by Rennie on his own Facebook page is an unwelcome addition to the independence debate and, at best, unbecoming for a leader of a political party.

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