Scottish government buildings did not fly the Saltire or the Union Jack half-mast following the death of King Abdullah of the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia, although an official condolences statement was issued.
This despite UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sending out a request to do so.
According leading Scottish politicians this was done to pay respects to the Saudi people, but not necessarily to the country’s rulers who have one of the most appalling human rights records in the world, and in particular persecute and mistreat LGBTI people.
Downing Street and Westminster Abbey joined Buckingham Palace with several other major public buildings in England and Wales flying the flag at half-mast.
However flags across Scotland did not fly half-mast, with a Scottish government spokesman explaining: “We offer the people of Saudi Arabia our condolences following the passing of King Abdullah.
“Flags are not routinely flown at half-mast from Scottish government buildings to mark the deaths of foreign heads of government or state.”
In contrast the prime minister, David Cameron and Prince of Wales have issued strong praise of the late King and are in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, to pay their respects. The two along with the Queen eulogised and applauded King Abdullah, despite the appalling human rights record under his regime.
David Cameron issued a statement saying: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud.
“He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”
While the Queen said he would “be long remembered by all who work for peace and understanding.”
Speaking with KaleidoScot, Alyn Smith, SNP Member of the European Parliament, explained why Scotland chose to react differently: “I thought the UK position bizarre, craven and cheap. Not least barely days after our PM was in Paris to support free speech he now descends on Riyadh to mark the passing of a man whose regime implacably opposed any such ideas.
“Of course, the reason is even more basic, money. The Saudi regime has over the years purchased countless billions of British bombs, tanks and guns and London is quite content to turn a blind eye to abuses of every value they claim to uphold.
“By contrast the Scottish government response, to express condolence but no more, is dignified, principled and proper. Our duty is to the Saudi people, not necessarily those in charge.”
In an unusual move, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, tweeted that flying the flag half-mast was “a steaming pile of nonsense” as well as a “stupid act on its own and a stupid precedent to set.”
While the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Partick Harvie, also tweeted his disappointment on Friday, writing: “UK Govt flies flags at half mast to mark the death of a misogynist, homophobic dictator. I’d like to urge the @scotgov not to follow suit.”
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy applauded the Scottish government and said: “I know there are all sorts of issues of protocol here. But when the sorts of things that happen in Saudi Arabia – a thousand lashes, the recent beheading of a woman.
“I think, all across Scotland – all across the UK – there will be a sense of bewilderment about it.”
Caron Lindsay, the treasurer of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Party said she was “horrified” by the instructions to fly flags half-mast and called for it to be resisted.
She added: “The vomit-inducing tone of the tributes portraying him as some sort of reformer added to my irritation. If he was a reformer, Brian from the Magic Roundabout is a world champion sprinter to rival Usain Bolt.”
The authoritarian regime ruling Saudi Arabia, that was headed by the late King Abdullah, has one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights.
Under his regime the religious police arrested, tortured and blackmailed hundreds of LGBTI people, sometimes having them subjected to corporal punishment and executions. In 2012 alone 260 people were arrested by the religious police, according to reports of the local press.
LGBTI people are vilified by the local press and in Ministry of Education schoolbooks, one from 2008 reads: “Homosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes… The punishment for homosexuality is death… he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place”
The religious police also routinely tries to entrap LGBTI people through social networking and dating sites; Last year a Saudi man was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 450 lashes for meeting men via Twitter.
Being gay is a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is often punished with imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, capital punishment, whipping/flogging, and chemical castrations. The severity of punishment depends mostly on religious Sunni judges and scholars, as well as royal decrees, and King Abdullah did not shy away from them.
“It is infuriating and disheartening when a country that was elected not too long ago to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), arrogantly and nonchalantly violates its core principles and harms its own citizens,” said Abdulla, chair of the United Arab Emirates LGBT group.
“Not only this is the fundamental human right for privacy is breached but the entrapment and sentence also breaches several human rights charters,” he told KaleidoScot.
“If the man survives this ordeal he will find himself an outcast and will be in danger for life after he completes this harsh sentence.”
Saudi Arabia has also an appalling record on gender equality, freedom of press, religion, association and privacy.
Only recently a woman was beheaded and blogger received a brutal sentence of 1000 lashes for merely expressing his views on a blog.