Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The coverage of his death has been crass and repugnant

[This is the headline over an article in the current edition of the Scottish Review by the editor, Kenneth Roy.  It reads as follows:]

Two of posh boy's closest chums, Charlie and Rebekah, along with a number of retainers, will be planking their expensively clad bottoms on the hard dock of Westminster magistrates' court three weeks tomorrow to face charges which, if proved, would normally lead to a significant stretch alongside ordinary Sun readers, heaven forbid, if not the life imprisonment to which these serious charges would make them theoretically liable; meanwhile, criminal proceedings against his former right-hand man, Mr Coulson, are still widely expected. I have just written an extremely long sentence. Purest coincidence.

Yet the prime minister, lol, still feels he's something of an authority on justice in this country. Mr High Moral Tone says the dying Megrahi should never have been released. John Junor's faithful assistant, Alice, invariably had a sick bag handy for passing to her master at the first sign of the latest hypocrisy. Alice, who was the busiest girl in British journalism, is badly missed. I could have used her at the weekend as I listened to David Cameron and again yesterday at the physically revolting media coverage of Megrahi's death. 

Was there anyone more crass than the prime minister lol? Almost unbelievably, there was. Her name is Johann Lamont and she appears to be the leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

This is what she said: Let me, on behalf of the people of Scotland, apologise to the families of all the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, for his [Megrahi's] early release. 

It is not necessary to accuse Ms Lamont of political opportunism; that goes with the territory. The truly remarkable thing about this statement – indeed the only remarkable thing – is its assumption that Johann Lamont is entitled to speak for the people of Scotland. I am one of the people of Scotland and she doesn't speak for me. My colleagues here are among the people of Scotland and she doesn't speak for them. In fact, there are many people of Scotland for whom Johann Lamont doesn't speak. How dare she?

I know for whom she speaks. There are 13,135 of them – the members of the Labour Party in Scotland. It's not a lot. It leaves 5,208,965 other people of Scotland whose opinions on the early release of Megrahi are unknown. Yet, on our behalf, Ms Lamont has just apologised to the families of the victims. She has presumed to apologise on my behalf, and your behalf, and everyone else's behalf. She has even had the audacity to apologise on behalf of the father of one of the victims, Dr Jim Swire, who has a home in Scotland, who could therefore be considered as one of the people of Scotland, and who supported Megrahi's early release and counted Megrahi as a friend.

If Ms Lamont's appointment as leader of the Scottish Labour Party had been endorsed by the Scottish public as a whole with her triumphant elevation to the office of first minister, her statement would have carried some authority. But it seems nothing much happened at the weekend while I was distracted trying to persuade Alice out of retirement. Johann Lamont simply went on being the leader of a party which collapsed dramatically only a year ago this month and is now reduced to 37 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament. A little modesty from Ms Lamont wouldn't go amiss. Oh, and a few ideas.

I forced myself to buy seven newspapers yesterday. Johann Lamont would have been proud of the Labour-supporting Daily Record with its front-page splash DO NOT MOURN THIS MONSTER. The Sun's NO PITY was almost subdued by comparison, but the paper recovered its form on page 2: HE FINALLY DIES...2 YEARS 6 MONTHS LATE. The Daily Mail had DEATH OF BOMBER AND THE SHAMING OF JUSTICE, the shaming in question being the release of Megrahi rather than the extreme doubts over the safety of his conviction. The Express was at least prepared to admit a doubt of its own, avoiding dogmatic certainty with its NOW TELL US THE TRUTH ABOUT LOCKERBIE.

THE BOMBER IS DEAD screamed The Scotsman across the full length of the front page – this from a paper with a proud sceptical tradition, the paper of Alastair Dunnett, Magnus Magnusson and Eric Mackay, a paper once regarded as Scotland's national quality daily.

Of the seven, only The Herald and The Guardian afforded the dead man the dignity of a name in its main headline. Both also studiously avoided calling him 'the Lockerbie bomber', a policy which The Herald adopted at an early stage; instead it more accurately described him as the only person convicted of involvement. Pedantic, of course; but honourably and essentially so. If you wanted balanced reporting yesterday, these were the places to look. It was, however, best to avoid BBC Scotland which still had 'the Lockerbie bomber' plastered all over its coverage, even in reference to the funeral. It is, as ever, interesting that the Scottish controller is unable or unwilling to impose journalistic standards on his own staff.

Among the political class, not everyone was as crudely populist as Johann Lamont. The Tory MP for Lockerbie, David Mundell, bravely inserted in his statement a note of condolence for the dead man's family. Willie Rennie, leader of the Liberal Democrat rump in the parliament, rose in my estimation for his demand that the facts must now be established, 'including whether crucial forensic evidence was withheld from the trial'. Mr Mundell's humanity and Mr Rennie's political leadership stood in stark contrast to the sheer awfulness of Cameron and Lamont.

For Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice secretary, the long ordeal is over. This magazine supported his decision at the time; we go on supporting it. God or the skill of the medical profession decrees when a terminally sick person will die – although personal determination may also be a factor. For any human being to commit to paper the words '2 years 6 months late' is repugnant. 

Despite the hysterical delusions of the media, I do not believe for a moment that the Scottish Government was party to any 'deal'. A decent politician released Megrahi on compassionate grounds and on these grounds alone. What do the Americans, who go on executing their citizens, have to teach us about compassion? I am grateful, indeed proud, to live in a country which embodies this principle in its penal code.

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