[The following is the text of a an article "Lockerbie: Muzzled, Toothless, Tamed" posted yesterday on Ian Bell's blog:]
A stirring piece of Westminster theatre, then. A judicious performance from David Cameron, mournfully deprecating a lack of clarity from his Labour predecessors. A fine display of righteous indignation on behalf of the dead from Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Some face-saving non-remarks – before his time, you understand – from Ed Miliband. And an intervention from Jack Straw that was feline, lawyerly, self-serving and utterly empty.
But there was a big, black, ugly dog in the shadows of the Commons chamber early yesterday afternoon, Sherlock. Once again, as so often before, that dog didn’t bark.
Britain’s politicians, some of them, are not fools. The Scots and the lawyers (often one and the same), in particular, have read all the articles, noted all the books, heard and seen the TV reports and documentaries. The ministers and former ministers among them have had access, confidentially, to more information than that.
They could each say – and such as Cameron certainly would – that the last Labour government’s efforts to “facilitate” Libyan attempts to secure the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi were wholly hypocritical, and morally indefensible. There’s no longer room for conjecture.
Oil; a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA); “bringing Gaddafi back into the fold”; Libyan threats and menaces; and a troublesome prisoner whose second appeal, likely to succeed despite every attempt to obstruct and undermine it, was looming: if the PTA wouldn’t stick, “compassion” would do instead. In the national interest.
Labour at least confessed that it did not wish to see al-Megrahi die in a British prison. The problem was two-fold: the Americans wanted exactly that, and there was no guarantee that the Nationalists in charge in Edinburgh could be relied upon to co-operate with a distrusted political rival. And did any party fancy facing the consequences if the dying man’s appeal succeeded? The tale told in all those articles and TV docs – effectively an international conspiracy to pervert the course of justice – had horrifying implications for very important people.
Hence our ugly, silent dog. Not a well-informed soul mentioned the safety of al-Megrahi’s conviction in the Commons yesterday, even for the sake of invective. Taking a pop at the SNP was routine. Keeping BP clear of the mess was all-but a patriotic duty. Sticking to the tight brief that Cameron himself had handed to Sir Gus O’Donnell was simplicity itself. And venting anger against mass murder, covered up or not, was all in a political day’s work.
I don’t say that the O’Donnell exercise has added nothing to the stock of information surrounding Lockerbie. It could certainly be construed as grounds for the SNP government to demand a couple of apologies. Equally, you could define it as another reason to ask why that same administration still refuses to question the safety of the conviction. But no one at Westminster has any intention of approaching that territory, even to dismiss the very idea as unworthy and outrageous.
[Yet another article on the subject is due to appear in The Herald tomorrow. Mr Bell's blog version can be read here. I shall blog on the published version tomorrow, if my unstable internet connection permits.
There has been lots of media coverage of Sir Gus O'Donnell's report and David Cameron's House of Commons statement. But none of it that I have been able to access merits a reference here, except the editorial in The Herald headed Megrahi questions still unanswered.]