[This is the headline over a column by Hugo Rifkind (son of Tory grandee and former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm) in today's edition of The Times. The relevant section reads as follows:]
This is not a job for East Renfrewshire Council
There are some matters at which, I’m sure, East Renfrewshire Council must excel. Bins, maybe. Say Auld Dick from No 32 is being kept awake by the stench of the leftovers and egg boxes in the wheelie belonging to Mrs McGinty from No 34. Nae problem. In other areas, though, I suspect it might be out of its depth. A purely random example: international diplomacy.
How has this happened? How has the whereabouts of the man behind the greatest terrorist atrocity on British soil become the responsibility not of the British Government, nor even of the Scottish Executive, but of the same people who empty Mrs McGinty’s bins? I’m talking about Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, otherwise known as the Libyan bomber. The good officers of East Renfrewshire Council, apparently, have been going quite frantic this week. Apparently, the terms of al-Megrahi’s compassionate release dictate that he must check in with the council every two weeks, and this week he couldn’t be contacted. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about, what with the Christmas lights in Giffnock going on.
What, I’m wondering, would the councillors of East Renfrewshire have done to Megrahi, had he not finally got in touch? Torn up his library card? Cancelled his bus pass? Or would they have sent a crack team of council officers, all in fleeces and clip-on ties, all with clipboards, to make an amphibious landing on the Libyan coast? Would they have stormed Tripoli to bring him home, like a cross between Navy Seals and a novel by Evelyn Waugh? As I have never personally lived in East Renfrewshire this is mere conjecture, but my hunch would be probably not.
The case of al-Megrahi was always a farce. Wasn’t he supposed to be dead by now? Plainly, nobody has any control over his whereabouts other than that nice Gaddafi bloke. Instead of anybody admitting that, though, we’ve just got this weird pretence otherwise, with every responsible body fobbing him off downwards, like a hot and quite embarrassing potato. Pretty soon we’ll have East Renfrewshire Council doing the same; you just wait and see. “This,” the Prime Minister will tell the House of Commons, “is purely a matter for Auld Dick and Mrs McGinty and their Neighbourhood Watch.”
[Mr Rifkind makes a good point. Requiring East Renfrewshire Council officials to pretend to monitor and supervise Mr Megrahi was always a nonsense. Even if he were to breach the terms of the licence under which he was released, there is not the slightest chance of his being recalled to prison by the Scottish Government. After all, one of the principal reasons for releasing him was that there was nowhere within the Scottish prison system that was suitable for the care of a dying man in his last weeks and months.
However, it is ironical that this good point should be being made in The Times, which is the newspaper that (a) manufactured a spurious crisis by claiming, on the very flimsiest of evidence, that Mr Megrahi had disappeared and (b) concussed officials of the Council into attempting to contact him outside the normal schedule of fortnightly phone calls. It is to be hoped that the Council submits to The Times a bill for the cost of this entirely unnecessary phone call to Tripoli.]