Alex Massie

Latest Lockerbie Conspiracy: Megrahi is an SNP Agent!

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Well, sort of. If one only paid attention to what Hillary Clinton or (some of) the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing said, you might gain the false impression that his possible release (or transfer to a Libyan jail) was some kind of admission that he is in fact innocent. It's important to remember that this is not the case. If - or possibly when - Abdebaset Ali al-Megrahi is released, it will be on the compassionate grounds that he is a dying man whose cancer is inoperable and terminal. It is not an act of


* pardon or commutation.

Even so, one can see why such a decision would upset some people. Nonetheless, for all that this affair has not been handled especially brilliantly by the SNP ministry in Edinburgh, some of the accusations made against it are, well, over-the-top. Here's Nick Cohen for instance:

The SNP is filled with small-toon politicians who are miles out of their depth. One relative suggested that their main concern was a petty desire to embarrass the Labour government which secured a diplomatic triumph when it negotiated the extradition of the suspects. If they release al-Meghari, they will imply that the trial was a farce and Labour blundered, and that would be a good day’s work as far as the SNP was concerned. 

Cohen recommends we read this post at Harry's Place, written by Tom Gallagher and I agree. Not because, contra Cohen, I think it "very good" but because it demonstrates how no aspect of this affair is immune to conspiracy and paranoid raving. For Gallagher, you see,

Kenny MacAskill and his party are on a voyage seeking national redemption and no opportunity must be lost to prevent any limits being placed on the march of a nation. The al-Mehgrahi affair is a virility contest in which Scotland’s ‘only true champions’ stand up for the integrity of Scottish justice and make their will prevail however much it discomfits Washington... al-Megrahi and the relatives of the victims in the USA and Scotland, are also in some ways hostages of the psych-drama being played out by Scotland’s ruling politicians as they affirm an emotion-laded nationalism.


Gallagher, however, prefers to see this as just another part of the SNP's independence drive. Thus:

Until this jarring episode, Alex Salmond has been content to promote an emerging foreign policy that is based on triangulation, playing off different groups and telling them what they most want to hear. A search for preferably wealthy partners in different parts of the Third World has been accompanied by crafty efforts to schmooze with the great and the good in Washington DC. This spring he persuaded James Webb, formerly Navy Secretary under Ronald Reagan and now the senior Democratic Senator for Virginia, to found a Friends of Scotland caucus meant presumably to be used if Anglo-Scottish political hostilities spill over into the international arena. No less than thirty US Senators now belong which must mean that many of the relatives of the Lockerbie victims are among their constituents...

With many in Whitehall assuming that Gordon Brown has ‘lost Scotland’, it may be left to the USA to decide how to treat this emerging micro-power in the North Atlantic. Salmond’s former principal private secretary, Robin Naysmith now sits in the British embassy in Washington as counsellor with a brief that includes making the case for independence.

five years ago


Still, that's all perfectly sane and rational when set beside Gallagher's conclusion:

Mrs Clinton will surely calm down and go take a break if she is persuaded that Scottish efforts to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing are just like the Homecoming, merely a psychodrama in which a party still in the teenage phase of government, demands the right to be taken seriously and treated as an adult force in the world. Just as North Korea was mollified by sending Bill Clinton to parlay, perhaps a similar high-profile visit, or even better, one from his successor, will encourage our ruling Nationalists to shed some of their neuroses.

As for playing hardball, dropping the hint that Scotland might someday be welcome as the 51st state of the United States if the British union buckles under the weight of so many recent policy failures, might just have a sobering effect on the Nationalists. The more cerebral ones know that such an idea would appeal to plenty who don’t fancy occupying a Celtic twilight zone for the next fifty years.

What on earth can this mean? And how can any sane person - let alone Nick Cohen - consider this a "very good" argument? Whatever one thinks of Wee Eck, he's hardly Kim Jong-Il, while I simply have no idea what the idea of Scotland as the "51st state" is supposed to mean, nor how this constitutes "playing hardball".

No, this is delusional nonsense that simultaneously tries to argue that the SNP are a bunch of immature teenagers whose actions are led by their emotions and coolly-calculating political masterminds who can turn any situation, no matter how initially unpromising it may seem, to their considerable political advantage. Alex Salmond, in this reading, is both midget and giant. No wonder none of Gallagher's argument makes any sense.

Now, it is true that Samond had a go at Tony Blair when Blair seemed to forget that the terms of the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya were a matter for Edinburgh, not Westminster. But Salmond was right and Blair was wrong. Pointing out that this is a matter for Scots law - albeit that there'll be political consultations with other interested parties - is not the same as arguing that Lockerbie is some kind of test of national machismo. This would be true if there were, for instance, a Labour ministry in Edinburgh and a Tory government in London. And it's true now too.

It's not, in this instance, a case of Gordon Brown "losing" Scotland. It's because it's a Scottish case and a Scottish decision. And one, to reiterate, that does not do anything to change the court's original verdict.

*Edited for clarity. Thanks to Welsh Jacobite in the comments.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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