Scottish independence: Quebec Premier at Holyrood for talks

Premier of Quebec Pauline Marois has held talks with Alex Salmond in Edinburgh

A nationalist arrives at the Scottish parliament having won an election but with no majority to deliver independence.

Pauline Marois' story sounds familiar. Its just like Alex Salmond's first term in government.

The premier of Quebec was in Edinburgh to discuss business, culture and, of course, politics with the first minister.

"No, this is not a nationalist summit," she told me.

Madame Marois secured victory in last year's elections but not enough votes to command a majority and therefore a third independence referendum for Quebec.

The largely French speaking province held constitutional votes in 1980 and 1995 with the last poll won by supporters of Quebec remaining as part of Canada, but only by 51% to 49%. Mrs Marois accepts that since then support for independence seems to have gone down.

"Now, you know, we have to work very hard because the population of Quebec is not convinced at this moment," she said.

But what lessons can she offer for Alex Salmond who faces his independence referendum in the autumn of 2014?

According to the premier a key issue for the Yes campaign in Quebec in 1995 was the message they offered voters.

Start Quote

If we have a majority we will work to convince the population of Quebec and if we think we succeed we could have a referendum but I will not fix a date”

End Quote Pauline Marois Premier of Quebec

"Maybe we should have said to the Quebecers that we are rich, we are able to be independent because that is the case...We don't have to be afraid."

The prosperity argument is already being deployed by Alex Salmond in relation to Scotland.

Another potential lesson for Mr Salmond, according to the premier, is finance.

Madame Marois suggested her side had been out-spent by other Canadian provinces and the federal government.

"That has been very difficult for us," she insisted "because we didn't have any control of this".

Mr Salmond's control of finance rules for the 2014 referendum has caused controversy with opposition parties.

The electoral commission will give their view on how much each campaign should spend but it will be up the the SNP-controlled Scottish parliament to set the final rules.

'Simple question'

As for a timetable for a third independence referendum for Quebec - Madame Marois is non-committal.

"If I table a question to the national assembly, I will not have the support of the opposition because they disagree with this project. So at this moment it is not possible for me to hold a referendum on the independence of Quebec," she said.

"If we have a majority we will work to convince the population of Quebec and if we think we succeed we could have a referendum, but I will not fix a date.

"In the past we made that and sometimes the political situation is not very good and we don't have a choice because we made a promise so this is why I want to leave the agenda open."

The premier said that when that time comes she will ask one single question and "it will be a simple question".

Before today's meeting, Madame Marois had not spoken to Alex Salmond and for the first minister it was a low key event.

Unlike previous visits from foreign government leaders no TV cameras were allowed to record the occasion.

Instead, one picture was issued of the two leaders shaking hands.

Mr Salmond's office explained this by saying the premier's meeting with the first minister was a simply a "courtesy" call.

Asked if she would return as the leader of an independent Quebec to see the leader of an independent Scotland, Madame Marois said "I am not reading the crystal ball, so I don't know when, but that could be very good news."

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