MSPs troop back to Holyrood this afternoon at 2.30pm to listen to a statement from Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill on his decision to release the Lockerbie Bomber on compassionate grounds. You can watch it live on their website
As I've said before, I think that this decision was absolutely the right thing to do. I've had problems with MacAskill's presentation and with the very flawed process, particularly his visit to Megrahi in prison, but does it really matter if he did the right thing in the end?
I suppose I have to imagine how I would have felt if the reverse had been the case, if he'd got the process right and decided to keep Megrahi in jail here. I'd have felt that was wrong, that he'd taken a political decision to deviate from our normal policy of releasing terminally ill prisoners with less than 3 months to live. That inconsistency would to my mind have been wrong and unfair and I'd have felt a lot more angry with him than I do now. How outrageous would it have been for someone to have been kept in prison when anybody else in the same situation would have been released just because a minister feared public disapproval or political consequences?
I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Scottish Lib Dem Leader Tavish Scott on this issue. He's said that Parliament should have been recalled before the decision was made. I'm not so sure. My whole reasoning on this is that it's not and shouldn't be a political decision. A Parliamentary debate on a compassionate release application would have taken the decision from the judicial to the political much more than MacAskill's visit to Megrahi and is not the right way to go about things.
If there is to be a Parliamentary scrutiny, then the right time for that is now, after the event. Parliament shouldn't influence a judicial process, but it is there to hold the Minister who made that decision to account. I'm hoping that MSPs will use their chance to question the Minister wisely. I want to know more about Megrahi dropping his appeal, for example. He didn't have to do that and I want to be reassured that there was no suggestion to him that he should do that in order to make a favourable decision on his compassionate release application more likely. I want to see him questioned on his decision to visit Megrahi which I don't think was either necessary or wise. I'd be interested to know what, if any, communications between the UK and Scottish Governments on the issue there have been. UPDATE: I really should check out my blogroll before I write things - Scott also has a useful list of questions for Kenny
For what it's worth, I can't imagine that even if there had been any pressure from London to release Megrahi, that it would have had the slightest bit of influence on Kenny MacAskill.
While I do think that there is definitely some short term damage to Scotland's international reputation - ie, the Americans are very pissed off with us - I don't think that's really relevant either and certainly shouldn't have influenced the decision. The US goes down in my estimation every time it executes anybody but I'd still happily go there on holiday. The Labour Party has a total nerve to suggest that the SNP have damaged the reputation of Scotland when any dent in our standing will be tiny compared to the disapproval they heaped on us by invading Iraq.
While I said yesterday that the Americans' attack on the Scottish Government was unjustified, Stephen took it further with this fantastic post, exposing the inconsistencies in their argument about giving comfort to terrorists. He's also made a few wry observations about what the implications of a US boycott of Scotland would be.
The American disapproval was as predictable as Libya's horrible celebrations, but they can't really argue with a decision made on principle and policy. What Kenny MacAskill did wrong was to make that decision political by visiting Megrahi in jail. By doing so he's handed opponents of release at home and abroad a chance to fling mud that actually sticks. If MacAskill hadn't done that, he would have my unreserved support for a brave and humanitarian decision - although I'd still have cringed at the wording of some parts of his statement. While of course he deserves credit for doing the right thing, it ain't just what you do, it's the way that you do it that's important.
While I don't think he should pay with his job, he will deserve the criticism on those points he gets from MSPs this afternoon and I think he needs to take it on board with a certain amount of humility. This afternoon's proceedings are not the time for theatrics and bluff and bluster, but for serious and careful questioning of the Government.
While MSPs gather their thoughts, I hope they'll be taking note of this article in today's Scotsman which says, as I've said all along, that decisions of this nature should not be a matter for politicians.