Sunday, 2 August 2015

Ignorant UK politicians

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Herald on this date in 2002:]

The Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing will remain in Glasgow after Jack Straw rebuffed Nelson Mandela's plea for him to be moved from Scotland to a prison in a Muslim country.

The foreign secretary's snub to Mr Mandela, former president of South Africa, was made public yesterday in a letter to Russell Brown, MP for Dumfries. In the letter, Mr Straw confirmed that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi would remain in Barlinnie jail in Glasgow.

''I can assure you there will be no change in policy on the location of Megrahi's imprisonment. He will serve his full prison sentence in Scotland,'' he said.

Mr Mandela, who was a prisoner in South Africa for 27 years, made his call for Megrahi to be moved in June, after visiting him in Barlinnie where he is serving a life sentence for the PanAm jumbo jet bombing which killed 270 people in 1988.

The veteran statesman had played a key role in ensuring that Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, handed over the two men suspected of the bombing.
Mr Brown, whose constituency includes Lockerbie, wrote to Tony Blair last month urging him to reject Mr Mandela's plea.

Yesterday, he welcomed Jack Straw's assurance that Megrahi, 49, would serve out his sentence in Scotland but said that, now speculation on the issue had been brought to an end, there should be a government inquiry into some aspects of the bombing.

In his letter to the Labour MP, Mr Straw said United Nations monitors had described the conditions in which Megrahi was being held as ''clearly very good'' and met all national and international standards. The monitors also said the Libyan's prison guards showed ''commendable'' awareness and respect for cultural and religious difference.

Mr Brown said the last thing he had wanted was to see this issue dropped into the current negotiations between the UK and Libya over sanctions, in an effort to make any deal easier.

He said: ''If you reopen the original agreement with Libya and decide that Megrahi should be moved to a Muslim country, it would only be a matter of time before you start to negotiate on length of the sentence or even the conviction itself.''

Mr Brown said there would not be a full public inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing but that he would like to see further investigations by the government.

[RB: Why Mr Brown or Mr Straw thought that the United Kingdom government had any control over where Abdelbaset Megrahi would serve his sentence is a mystery to me. Mr Mandela can be forgiven for not being aware of the details of the division of authority between the Scottish and the United Kingdom governments, but Messrs Brown and Straw cannot.]


  1. Mr Brown was not the brightest star in Labour's firmament but Straw certainly had sufficient wit to understand the position.

  2. "Why Mr Brown or Mr Straw thought that the United Kingdom government had any control over where Abdelbaset Megrahi would serve his sentence is a mystery..."
    People with primitive insight in matters like myself, may wonder if it was a slip, a revelation of the way matters really work behind the scenes. Rule, Brittania...

  3. In reality, as Labour was in power in Holyrood, all Brown or Straw had to say was Jump, and McConnell would have replied How high?

    It was only when the SNP unexpectedly won the 2007 election by a single seat and formed the government more by chutzpah than anything else, that that changed. Interestingly, that happened right in the middle of Blair's deal in the desert, which is why the Libyans thought Blair could determine what happened to Megrahi. At the start of the talks, he could, and I don't think even Blair realised how fundamentally everything had changed until the new Scottish government started flexing its muscles.