Friday, 28 August 2009

Outrage over Megrahi release is illogical

THE political reaction from unionist politicians in Scotland has been all too predictable. They play partisan politics with the decision of the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to send the Lockerbie bomber home to Libya as an act of mercy for a dying man.

They ignore a wide range of support from enlightened opinion across the parties and from many UK relatives of the Lockerbie victims. Had Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi died a martyr in prison in Scotland, no doubt they would have condemned that decision too. That is unless they had been in power.

The moral outrage of unionists here is as illogical as the hysterical reaction of many US citizens quoted on Fox TV and the country's FBI chief, Robert Mueller.

Yet look at US blogs and there is considerable support for Scotland's Justice Secretary and his compassionate decision.

I have had a couple of dozen e-mails and messages. Overwhelmingly, they echo the words of one constituent last Monday. Writing to me before the recall of Parliament for Mr MacAskill's statement and questions, he said: "Could I say that I think a brave decision was taken last week, with which I fully agree.

"The events in Tripoli were unfortunate but the fact that the Justice Minister could act in an individual way unfettered by outside pressure is admirable."

Several round-robin e-mails expressing the opposite view have appeared. Only two or three from the Highlands and Islands.

The silence from London during the crucial decision time needs to be explained. I noted from The Guardian last Saturday that the Foreign Secretary David Miliband was keener to reject any hint of UK complicity in Megrahi's release than on explaining the UK's position.

He was cross questioned on BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme and insisted that the UK Government would not interfere with the Scottish decision.

He explained: "It would upturn the devolution settlement, which says very clearly that the Justice Secretary in Scotland should make this decision."

Who can disagree with Julian Borger in The Guardian that "the British Government had just secured the unexpected bonus of being able to please its new Libyan partners while ducking responsibility for the release of a convicted mass murderer"?

While Blair and Brown were seeking oil and gas contracts for Shell, BP and BS, a cross-party delegation of US senators led by John McCain, the defeated Republican presidential candidate, met with Libya's leader on Friday, August 14, in Tripoli to discuss the possible delivery of non-lethal defence equipment. Associated Press reported that visit and Washington's offer of military equipment was another sign of the improving ties between the former long-time adversaries.

Mr McCain said: "The status of human rights and political reform in Libya will remain a chief element of concern. However, ties between the United States and Libya have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years."


LAST weekend, I attended the unveiling of a monument at Lyness to the Arctic convoys during the Second World War.

In contrast to the criticism of Scotland by the US Government over the Lockerbie issue, high-ranking dignitaries from Russia stood shoulder to shoulder with Scottish, Belgian and other allied citizens at the new memorial.

In wartime the naval escorts sailed from Scapa Flow to protect merchant ships assembled at Loch Ewe. Three thousand seamen and 100 out of 800 allied ships were lost supplying the Soviet Union with the materials that underpinned the country's victory against the Nazis. The hazards of the convoys to Murmansk were appalling. We rightly remembered the sacrifice made in the cause of freedom.

The Russian consul general for Scotland, Sergey Krutikov, presented medals on behalf of his government to two surviving Orkney veterans of the convoys.

These were given to applause from the 300 people present. Among them was a convoy veteran Sandy Manson, from John O'Groats, another comrade who sailed to Russia on HMS Matchless.

I have made many friends from Russia and, in particular, from the oil province in Siberia in recent years. The chairman of the local parliament, or duma, shared the task of unveiling the monument that forms two great standing stones shaped like the prow of a ship.

We plough safer waters today and share economic aims with our northern neighbours. That future was assured by our kin who fought for that freedom. It's up to us to build sustainable links that rule out conflicts in Europe in future and include our Russian friends in the recovery of our economies in today's world.


IN a week of political discord several MSPs will be hoping to strike a note of harmony at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe tomorrow.

Myself, Thurso-born Green MSP Robin Harper, Labour's Pauline McNeil as well as Jamie McGrigor, of the Tories, will be taking to the stage at theatre workshop to perform a concert in aid of ChildLine.

It is a fantastic opportunity to perform at the world's biggest and (probably) best arts festival, and it is a great charity to raise money for.

So if you are around Edinburgh tomorrow, or know of anyone down there, then the theatre workshop at Stockbridge would be worth a visit. I can't guarantee that you won't be disappointed but it should be good fun!

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