Alex Massie

Lockerbie & Occam’s Razor

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So, I've got this correct, the initial reaction to Kenny MacAskill's decision to free the Lockerbie bobmber was that this demonstrated nothing but the SNP's provincialism. Small-toon politicians desperate to make a mark on the international stage and all that. Now we're told that it was all just about grubby, if lucrative commercial interests and that London was quite happy to see al-Megrahi repatriated, whether on compassionate grounds or as a consequence of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement agreed with Libya.

It's possible that both of these theories to be partially true. However, if the Westminster government really did want to see Megrahi sent home to Libya, it's quite possible that the SNP ministry in Edinburgh would have done everything possible to frustrate London. Now that would have been a piece of grandstanding MacAskill could really have got his teeth into. Hamming it up for Scotland and for justice and the memory of the 280 people killed at Lockerbie and all the rest of it.

And that would probably have been a more popular decision at home and abroad. That the nationalists didn't play to the gallery suggests, whether one likes it or not, that they took the decision because they thought it the right thing to do. Megrahi then, became the 23rd prisoner (I believe) to be released from a Scottish prison on such compassionate grounds in recent years.

If there is a conspiracy here - and lord knows half the world seems to want there to be one - it lies in the prospect of ministers being advised that Megrahi would have won his appeal. His cancer, if this is the case, proved a blessing since it created a means by which Megrahi could be sent home while also saving everyone's blushes and keeping the Lockerbie files closed.

Even that, however, requires one to believe in some degree of conspiratorial shenanigans. Occam's Razor suggests the answer may be rather different

Other reactions to the affair seem strained. Perhaps Salmond should have anticipated that Megrahi would receive a "hero's welcome" in Libya. But why that should be additional grounds for keeping Megrahi behind bars remains a mystery. If Megrahi received a hero's welcome in Tripoli my suspicion is that the average Libyan views him as an innocent man returning home, not a national hero who'd successfully carried out a military mission for the greater glory of the motherland.

Furthermore, FBI Director Robert Mueller's letter to Kenny MacAskill complaining that MacAskill has "made a mockery of justice" is a poor, shabby piece of work. The idea that "Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world" is utterly fanciful - unless you think that some wretched plotter in Islamabad looks at all this and decides that, hang it, he'll put aside his concerns about the risks of blowing up the Karachi Hilton and go ahead with it because, you know, there's always a chance Kenny MacAskill will get involved. Or something. It's nonsense and if Mueller doesn't know it's nonsense one wonders whether he's really up to task of running the FBI.

Maybe MacAskill got it wrong. I'm unpersuaded that there's much to be said for keeping a dying man in prison and it's certainly the case that ministers in London and Washington are ill-placed to be throwing too many stones around, given the galss nature of their own houses.

But, in the end, it seems to be much easier for everyone to think that there's a conspiracy of some sort. I'm not so sure, not least because it's not clear to me that the people concerned have the necessary competence to actually run such a conspiracy...

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.

Topics in this articleSocietyscotlandsnpterrorism