[What follows is excerpted from a report published today on the website of Holyrood magazine:]
The former SNP minister who approved the release of the Lockerbie bomber has said that such decisions should be taken out of the hands of politicians.
Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was dying from cancer, on compassionate grounds, saw the SNP gripped by one of the most damaging rows of its nine years in power.
However, MacAskill, said that such controversial decisions over the release of prisoners should not be made by politicians and suggested the judiciary would be better placed to deal with them.
Speaking at an event to promote his book ‘The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search For Justice’, he said: “I ultimately believe that such decisions should be taken out of the hands of politicians.”
MacAskill also said that Scotland should have its own Privy Council where the government shares information about issues of national security with opposition politicians.
He suggested that such a move would make it easier to deal with issues such as the release of Megrahi, a decision he approved amid widespread controversy and condemnation in August 2009.
The UK has operated a Privy Council for centuries, with a membership that consists of cabinet members past and present, the Commons Speaker, the leaders of the main opposition parties, Archbishops, various senior judges as well as other senior public figures.
Under the arrangements, it is commonplace for prime ministers to share information, some of it classified, with leaders of the opposition on "Privy Council terms", on the express understanding that it will not be made public.
MacAskill suggested that having an equivalent body for Scotland would make it easier to prevent political row over issues such as the release of Megrahi. (...)
Scottish Labour said the process had been a "shambles" and accused MacAskill of a “woeful handling of the decision and announcement", in a series of bitter rows that saw Holyrood recalled and the government’s decision condemned in a separate parliamentary vote.
MacAskill said that a Privy Council system for Scotland could allow governments to take a more bipartisan approach to such issues.
He added: “At some stage we need some sort of Privy Council arrangement where you are able to say to Labour or whoever, look we’ve got a problem here.
Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish, who chaired MacAskill’s book event in Edinburgh, backed the proposed reform.
McLeish said: “The idea would be that Scotland has an equivalent to the Privy Council and where there’s a threat to Scotland you would avoid the really stupid questions that come at all ministers.”
Meanwhile, MacAskill said that releasing Megrahi, but keeping him in Scotland rather than sending him back to Libya, would have led to a media circus that was on the same scale as the high profile murder trial for former American football star OJ Simpson.