Alex Massie

Lockerbie and the Special Relationship

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One of the most tedious aspects of the UK-US relationship is the fretting that happens in Britain each and every time something happens that could possibly be construed as "damaging" the "special relationship". The tone of the commentary that follows or accompanies any such event always makes it clear that the sanctity of the Anglo-American relationship should have trumped all other considerations.

Naturally, the decision to let Abdebaset Ali al-Megrahi go home to die in Libya is one such example of this phenomenon. Iain Dale, for instance, has a post headlined "How will the Al-Megrahi Decision Affect US/UK Relations?" Like that's the most important issue here! One can disagree with Kenny MacAskill's decision and there are perfectly good grounds for doing so. Fearing that the Americans, no matter how reasonably, might be upset comes a long way down the list of acceptable reasons for thinking that the SNP have got this one wrong.

Because, of course, putting the US-UK relationship before everything else justifies almost anything. Nonetheless, it is striking how many British rightists seem to think that the United States should have a de facto veto over aspects of British foreign policy or, in this instance, justice.

Nile Gardiner, for instance, produces this impressive piece of weapons-grade stupidity:

If Gordon Brown had an ounce of moral fibre he would step in and reverse this scandalous decision. But no doubt a deal had been struck between New Labour and Tripoli months ago. The whole notion that the British government is powerless to intervene is nonsense and simply a smokescreen. The Scotland Act of 1998 makes it clear that Westminster still retains control over all defence and national security issues as well as foreign affairs.

There will be huge public and political outrage across the Atlantic and rightly so. Millions of Americans will be repulsed by a cynical betrayal by a lily-livered and third-rate Scottish Executive, as well as a reckless British government that has callously disregarded the concerns of its closest ally. The US-UK Special Relationship should mean something on an issue like this, but has been discarded like a rag doll on bonfire night by Downing Street and the Foreign Office. Clearly the killing of 180 Americans at the hands of Colonel Gaddafi meant nothing at all to Brown and his spineless Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Gordon Brown cannot reverse this decision - even if he were minded to do so - because this is not a question for Westminster. That is not a smokescreen but a truth, however inconvenient. Justice is a devolved matter and was, in many respects, before the Scottish parliament was established. Previously it would have been the Lord Advocate's decision. Equally, the idea that the killing of 180 Americans (and 90 people from other, apparently less important, countries) means "nothing" is patently absurd. If that were the case no-one owuld have gone to the trouble of even having a trial.

What Gardiner really means, however, is that the Americans should have had the final say.

Then again, also writing at the Telegraph, Janet Daley rather impressively manages to construct an argument that, coincidentally, cements her view that it's all proof that Barack Obama is a weak President. Seriously.

But the important political lesson will have gone home. The President and his Secretary of State could do nothing - for all their administration’s supposed global prestige - to prevent what they considered to be an outrage. On yet another score, Mr Obama could not deliver the goods.

Note again the presumption that the United States should have been able to get its way and that Washington ought to be able to dictate policy to its allies. Like any sensible person, I think Washington's representations deserved a thorough hearing and, yes, the notion that Megrahi should have stayed in prison is far from unreasonable. But that is not the same as contracting the decision out to Washington or granting the US the power of veto.

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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