Call me naive, but the tale of how Adelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was bought and sold for British oil is shocking, not just because of the cynical avarice of the UK government but the fact the SNP government appears to have wanted a piece of the action. It’s seems no one was telling the truth about the springing of the Libyan convicted of the worst terrorist attack in British history.
The claims from prominent Labour figures in 2009 that the release of Megrahi by the SNP government on compassionate grounds was “unpardonable folly”, and as Lord McConnell put it, “a disgrace to Scotland” were barefaced hypocrisy. As the former Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill now makes clear in his book Lockerbie: the Search for Justice, Labour Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, talked frankly about the deal brokered by the UK government under which BP would get access to £13 billion in oil and £350 million in defence contracts in exchange for a Prisoner Transfer Agreement. “It was trade and commerce for weapons and prisoners” writes Mr MacAskill, “A deal with the devil – a Faustian pact with Gadaffi.”
Gordon Brown was prime minister in 2009 and knew all about this, yet he said in an interview in September of that year: “There was no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances”. He allowed senior Labour spokespeople to act as if the UK Government were innocent bystanders in an act of madness by a deranged SNP who were taking Libya’s side against the world.
Even when Barak Obama joined in the condemnation of Scotland, the UK Government persisted with the pretence it had nothing to do with the squalid dealings of the delinquent Nats. What now emerges is that the UK Government orchestrated the entire affair and the Scottish Government were fingered as the fall guys.
But that begs the question of why the SNP government fell for it. Why did they not do as they were urged by the US President, and legions of victims groups in America, and exclude Megrahi from compassionate release on the grounds that his crime was so uniquely evil that normal standards of administrative justice could not apply? Mr MacAskill was urged to consider the impact on the families of the Lockerbie victims of seeing the murderer of their loved ones returning to a hero’s welcome in Tripoli.
Well, it seems Mr MacAskill was worried about possible reprisals against Scots if Megrahi had died in a Scottish jail. There was no suggestion of this at the time. Indeed, if the Justice Secretary had suggested as much I suspect Mr Obama himself would have been on the plane to Glasgow to persuade Alex Salmond he was playing into the hands of terrorists.
But it wasn’t just fear of Gadaffi. In an interview timed to coincide with the publication of his new book, MacAskill said: “We knew the British were going to do a deal with the Libyans so we might as well try to get something out of it”. This is not what we were told at the time. Mr Salmond insisted it was a decision purely for the Scottish Government under the solemn sanctions of Scots law. No side bets.
Had we known the Scottish Government was trying to trade slopping out for the release of the criminal convicted of murdering 270 people I suspect there would have been outrage, not least among victims groups. Mr MacAskill admits his attempts to strike a side deal were anyway fruitless “We got nothing” he confirms in his interview.
Nor had the Scottish Government, as others suggested, been agonising over the possibility Megrahi had been wrongly convicted, as suggested by figures like Dr Jim Swire of the Lockerbie victims. “Libya did it”, MacAskill concludes after a lengthy discussion of the evidence, “Megrahi was part of it and other states and terrorist organisations also played their part. It was in revenge for the downing of the Iran Air flight  by a US naval ship [USS Vincennes].”
Any way you look at this, it appears the fledgeling Scottish Government was rather more involved with the UK’s dodgy diplomacy over Megrahi than we had been led to believe. SNP supporters say this is just how governments behave, and why should the Scottish Government be any different. Well call me old fashioned, but I thought new brooms were supposed to sweep clean.
From Herald 17/5/16