Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Release of Megrahi was approved in free vote in Scottish Parliament

[What follows is excerpted from a column by Kevin Pringle published yesterday on the website of The Courier:]

Free votes are a rarity in the Scottish Parliament.

I recall one in 2009 about the compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in the sky above Lockerbie in December 1988.

The reason SNP MSPs were not whipped on that occasion was because the decision to send Mr Megrahi back to Libya, resultant from his terminal cancer diagnosis, was taken by the then Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a collective government decision.

Even so, every SNP MSP rallied behind Mr MacAskill, amid the storm of controversy that erupted at home and abroad, particularly in the US.

Rather than any fragmentation in the SNP’s ranks, the vote saw a Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, split off from his party colleagues to endorse the release of Mr Megrahi.

The story underlines the extraordinary unity of purpose that has characterised the SNP since coming to office at Holyrood more than 15 years ago.

Overwhelmingly, this cohesion continues to define the party, both within and outwith the Scottish Parliament.

Nonetheless, the dissent over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill last Thursday was a significant moment. (...)

Unlike the compassionate release of Mr Megrahi all those years ago, reforming gender recognition legislation is formally a Scottish Government proposal – reflecting a pledge in last year’s SNP manifesto. (...)

Both the First Minister, and those SNP MSPs who choose to challenge her on this Bill, have a point.

When I read the manifesto last year, I thought it was worded like that to pave the way for a compromise on the issue.

Clearly not.

And yet in the coming weeks it may be amended at stages 2 and 3 of Holyrood’s legislative process, so that it doesn’t give any of the entrenched campaigners everything they want, but in its final form is safe and something most folk can live with.

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