Snub to Scotttish first minister by Justin Trudeau in UK en route to G20 summit suggests opposition to independence.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has praised Scotland’s role in global affairs after receiving an honorary degree for his campaigning on equality and diversity.
Trudeau was given the honour by the University of Edinburgh on Wednesday morning before he met the Queen for a private audience at the Palace of Holyroodhouse en route to a G20 leaders summit in Hamburg later this week.
But questions have emerged about why Trudeau chose not to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, despite their closely aligned positions on tackling climate change, championing refugee rights, diversity and social equality.
Trudeau put great stress on Canada’s historic ties with Scotland, whose migrants played a key role in its colonisation, during his address to graduates. His maternal grandfather, James Sinclair, emigrated from Aberdeenshire and became a Canadian MP in 1940.
Trudeau said he was among the 15% of Canadians who had Scottish roots and “a strong link and affinity with Scots”. That included Canada’s first prime minister, John Macdonald, a Glaswegian.
He paid tribute to Scotland’s stance on global issues, saying: “Thank you for being a partner to use in an era of global challenges.”
There are suspicions in the Scottish government the Liberal party leader was unwilling to meet Sturgeon because of her support for independence and the possible parallels with the separatist movement in Quebec, the Canadian province previously run by the pro-independence Parti Québécois.
However, the Scottish National party has distanced itself from the Quebecois independence movement in part because of violent incidents in its past, its adherence to Francophone cultural nationalism and Scotland’s historical ties to Canada as a federal state.
It is understood no approach was made to the Scottish government by Trudeau’s office, even though Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, held a series of meetings and official events with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, culminating in a banquet with Ireland’s president, Michael Higgins, in Dublin on Tuesday. At one stage Trudeau went jogging with Varadkar in Phoenix Park.
His office said Trudeau had too little time between engagements in Edinburgh to meet Sturgeon. “Unfortunately, due to timing, no other meetings are planned,” a spokesman said.
However, his official schedule for the visit shows Trudeau had only two events in Scotland: his degree convocation at 11am and his audience with the Queen at 4pm, before flying to Hamburg for a global citizen festival and the G20 summit later this week.
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative deputy leader, said Trudeau may have snubbed Sturgeon because of her continuing quest for independence. “The nationalists have never stopped to think how this might look around the world and clearly a Canadian prime minister would recognise the benefits of a country like the UK staying together and be no fan of separatism,” Carlaw said.
“Mr Trudeau obviously had better things to do than pose for the obligatory selfie with Nicola Sturgeon.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said it did not request a meeting on Sturgeon’s behalf. “The Scottish government did not ask for a meeting with the prime minister, but we warmly welcome him on his visit to Scotland, and we look forward to deepening the longstanding and historical ties between our countries,” he said.
Trudeau told graduates and academic staff at the ceremony his first degree was from a university founded by a Scottish immigrant to Canada, McGill University, as were many other Canadian colleges and universities.
“But the Scottish contribution to Canada goes well beyond academia. Indeed, the history of Scottish people in Canada is quite significant. Scottish settlers were among the first to put down roots. In fact, we have a province on our east coast which literally translates as New Scotland.”
Trudeau was introduced at the convocation by Dr James Kennedy, the university’s director of Canadian studies, as the embodiment of Canada’s “return to soft power, using not force but ideas to influence.
“It is Prime Minister Trudeau’s deep commitment to diversity and equality that we recognise today. He has spoken of respect for diversity being foundational to Canada. It is also foundational to this prime minister’s life work,” Kennedy said.