[This is the headline over a report published this morning on the Newsnet Scotland website. It reads in part:]
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has dismissed as “nonsense” a claim by BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler ...
Mr Salmond was appearing on the UK Newsnight programme in order to address attacks from US Senator Robert Menendez. Mr Menendez is one of four senators whose letter to the UK ambassador resulted in the setting up of a Senate Committee hearing into the circumstances leading up to the release.
During the exchanges, broadcast live, Mr Esler appeared to claim that the release had harmed the chances of Scottish independence saying to Mr Salmond: “You would like an independent Scotland, you would like good relations with the United states particularly those 40 million or so who claim some kind of Scottish descent. This one case may have blown it”
Mr Salmond ridiculed the suggestion saying: “I think that’s just such nonsense Gavin, we have good relationships with the United States.”
Mr Salmond underlined the respect that the Scottish government has for all of the victims of Lockerbie who spanned 21 different nationalities. The FM included in that respect the surviving families who themselves were also victims and explained that there were some families in the US who actually agreed with the release.
When asked by Mr Esler whether the Scottish government would be prepared to ‘cooperate’ if senator Menendez were to come to Scotland the First Minister pointed out that the Scottish government were already cooperating where they could and highlighted the refusal of the US and UK administrations to release all documents relating to the case.
Mr Salmond promised that the senator would be extended the courtesy afforded all foreign representatives who visit and revealed that Kenny MacAskill had recently met with a dozen US Congressmen on the subject of Al Megrahi at the request of the American Consul General in Scotland.
However the First Minister made it clear that no Scottish Minister would be compelled to attend - and have judgement passed on them by - a committee controlled by another nation. Mr Salmond highlighted the United States refusal to attend inquiries into the ‘friendly fire’ deaths of UK servicemen, the ‘extraordinary rendition’ where people were spirited through UK airports by the CIA for torture and inquiries into Guantanamo bay.
Mr Esler suggested that US suspicions that the release was related to a BP oil deal were justified saying: “BP wanted drilling in Libya, Libya wanted Megrahi, You release Megrahi, BP gets drilling rights.”
Mr Esler added: “There was some lobbying by the LBBC of which BP is a part, you can understand why American senators, meaning no disrespect to the Scottish or British governments think there’s something deeply fishy about this”
This was addressed by Mr Salmond who explained that the lobbying on behalf of LBBC had been carried out by a Tory politician. The request had been rejected out of hand by Kenny MacAskill who had explained firmly to the Tory peer that business interests would play no part in the decision on Mr Megrahi.
The First Minister went on to suggest that if the senator was truly interested in Libyan oil deals negotiated on behalf of BP then the person to ask would be the man who was part of the negotiations - Tony Blair. Mr Salmond explained that the signing of the BP oil deal took place, not as the BBC presenter had suggested after the release of Mr Megrahi, but two years before on the same day that Tony Blair met with Libyan leader Col Gadaffi.
Mr Salmond also highlighted the silence from both the then Westminster opposition and indeed US senators when the SNP exposed Tony Blair’s secret ‘deal in the desert’.