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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
No let-up in Quebec economy spat
Jack McConnell Quebec graphic
Jack McConnell: "Regular discussions with Quebec"
Scotland's first minister has refused to back down after sparking a diplomatic row with the Canadian province of Quebec.

The dispute began after Jack McConnell said Quebec was an example of how constitutional uncertainty through the pursuit of independence could damage an economy.

His words prompted a letter from the London-based agent general of the Quebecois - the ruling party in the province - dismissing his comments and seeking a meeting with Mr McConnell.

The minister's speech at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool was aimed at the pro-independence Scottish National Party, Labour's closest rivals in the Scottish Parliament.


His only hope in the face of the SNP's vision of releasing our potential is to employ cynical, negative campaigning

John Swinney
SNP leader

On Friday, Mr McConnell remained unrepentant when he said: "I am delighted that Quebec has continued to prosper as a devolved government within the federal state of Canada."

In a response to the agent general Daniel Audet's suggestion for a meeting, he said: "I have had regular discussions with the Quebec Government and expect to continue to do so."

Privately, executive sources pointed to key economic indicators which they said had been adversely affected around the time of the province's last referendum on independence in October 1995.

Higher output

The SNP leader, John Swinney, said: "Jack McConnell tipped his election hand during his conference speech and revealed that his only hope in the face of the SNP's vision of releasing our potential is to employ cynical, negative campaigning."

Canadian share prices were said to have fallen by 5% from July to October that year and interest rates rose by more than 1% ahead of the referendum.

Mr Audet said that since 1995, Quebec's gross domestic product had outpaced the average of G7 countries and the province had a higher GDP per head than the UK.

"This unprecedented economic growth coincides with a period during which Quebec has sought to achieve greater recognition of its distinctiveness and greater control over its political future.

'Economic wellbeing'

"Discussing one's political future is not detrimental to one's economic wellbeing.

"Quebec's own experience for more than 40 years shows the opposite."

Mr McConnell told an audience in Blackpool that the SNP was keen to draw comparisons with Scotland.

"Here's one they don't often talk about," he said.

"Quebec had a referendum on independence in 1995.

"And just like Quebec then, our country would be threatened by currency devaluation, a leap in interest rates, a falling market, and companies pulling back from their plans to invest."

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 ON THIS STORY
Political correspondent Kirsten Campbell
"The SNP has pounced on this diplomatic row"
See also:

02 Oct 01 | Americas
21 Aug 01 | Americas
15 Feb 01 | Americas
14 Sep 02 | Americas
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