Wednesday, 26 November 2014

MacAskill's decision to release Megrahi "erroneous" says Scotsman columnist

[What follows is excerpted from an article in today’s edition of The Scotsman by home affairs reporter Chris Marshall:]

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision last week to remove Kenny MacAskill from his justice brief merely confirmed what many had suspected for some time.

The justice secretary had cut an increasingly forlorn figure in recent months, only narrowly avoiding a vote of no confidence when opposition MSPs demanded he resign over his handling of the issue of armed policing.

Indeed, it was telling that those in uniform seemed to be the unhappiest to see the justice secretary go.

Niven Rennie, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, used his Twitter account to describe Mr MacAskill as “a statesman” who would be a “hard act to follow”. But ringing endorsements from the police force should not be a badge of honour for a politician.

The praise heaped on the departing justice secretary reflected what had been an ever-increasing willingness on his part to cede power to the police on “operational matters”. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the police’s unilateral decision to allow a small number of officers to carry guns on routine patrol, a decision Mr MacAskill was made aware of but raised not a peep about. This particular “operational matter” came to light only when concerned citizens of Inverness began reporting gun-carrying cops on the largely crime-free streets of the Highland capital.

His apparent reticence to gets his hands dirty did not mark the justice secretary’s entire time in office, however. He did not shy away from controversy, the erroneous decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing – being a case in point.

[RB: It is regrettably typical of today’s pale shadow of a once-great newspaper that what was perhaps Kenny MacAskill’s bravest, most principled and legally correct act as Cabinet Secretary for Justice should be dismissed in The Scotsman with the throwaway line “erroneous decision”.]

1 comment:

  1. I am not Kenny MacAskill's biggest fan. However, slamming the decision to release Megrahi as "wrong" and blaming him for this reveals a profound misunderstanding of what happened.

    It is abundantly clear that both the Westminster and the US governments wanted Megrahi back in Libya, one way or another. Labour in Westminster were manoeuvering for that outcome by way of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement as far back as 2007, but were thwarted by the election of the SNP to Holyrood in May of that year. MacAskill (and Salmond) refused to go along with that sleazy "deal in the desert".

    Megrahi's illness provided the possibility for a different route to be taken to the same end, and MacAskill wasn't opposed to compassionate release. Everything suggests that he and Salmond were tacitly encouraged to go down that route during the summer of 2009, and indeed in my opinion Jack Straw's release of Ronnie Biggs under the equivalent English legislation was intended as a precedent that would act as a green light to Holyrood for the release of Megrahi. Biggs lived a lot longer than Megrahi did of course - indeed he wasn't even suffering from a clearly terminal illness at the time.

    Not a breath of criticism or condemnation of the release of Megrahi was uttered by any politician on either side of the Atlantic before the deed was actually done. This despite the fact that it was common knowledge that he was going to be released for several days before the decision was made official. Of course not. Those concerned were holding their breaths and crossing all their fingers, hoping that MacAskill would go through with it. They certainly weren't going to say anything that might have put him off.

    Only after Megrahi was irretrievably back in Tripoli did the shit-storm of condemnation against MacAskill and Salmond start, They'd done what was expected of them, and their next function was going to be to take the blame.

    The only good thing about all that was that Megrahi got to go home. The rest of it was an unedifying display of base politicking from absolutely everyone involved.