I have to be honest and say that I don't envy Kenny MacAskill. The decision he has had to make on the future of Abdelbasset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber is a hard one. He faces pressure from all sides.
On one hand, the irrefutable medical evidence that Megrahi has aggressive, terminal prostate cancer and has only a few months left to live. If he were anyone else, he'd have been quietly released and nobody would really be any the wiser. On the other hand, we have US politicians and even the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, requesting in no uncertain terms that he should be left in prison. The families of the 270 victims of the attack are divided - in the US, the families are indignant at the thought of release, while in this country I guess British families have had enough experience of judicial failure in the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four to doubt the safety of his conviction.
We're not going to know what is going to happen until 1pm, when Kenny MacAskill makes his announcement and he's certainly going to be doing that in the glare of the international spotlight. To my mind, the right announcement would be compassionate release, as I've said before . I know that puts me a bit out of step with good people in my Party and it's only fair to mention their opposition. I disagree with Jim on this, but I understand where he's coming from. Since I wrote that posting, I've discovered that compassionate release is the usual course of action for a terminal illness of less than 3 months' prognosis. To my mind that humane prinicple should be sacrosanct and not subject to political intervention. For that reason, I think what I said in my last posting about these sorts of decisions being made by an independent body, considering the medical evidence, and risk of danger to the public alone, was justified.
There shouldn't really be a political factor in this. We shouldn't buckle to pressure from the US, nor should the decision be portrayed as one of standing up to the US. If I had lost someone I loved, I may well be spitting mad at the thought of compassion being shown to their murderer, so the families deserve our thoughts and sympathy at what will be a difficult time for them.
Having said all that, boy have the SNP completely cocked this up. If he was in a room with a locked window and an open door, it seems like Kenny MacAskill would choose to go out the window. This is where I totally agree with Tavish Scott. MacAskill took his decision from the judicial to the political the moment he set foot in Greenock jail. No way should that ever have been allowed to happen. I can't imagine what on earth he was thinking. When do Ministers ever go and visit convicted murderers in jail? There was no need for that. All MacAskill needed to have was the report from Megrahi's doctors.
Not only that, but there was the leak to the BBC a week ago saying he was going to be released, then the dropping of his appeal which posed many more questions than it answered about whether a deal had been done with him. Why on earth has this process been as drawn out as it has been? Why has the Scottish Government not been able to manage the flow of information in a more competent manner?
I suspect there will need to be full scrutiny of the way in which this decision was made at some point so that we can understand the processes involved. We need to ascertain how he came to drop his appeal. He has always maintained his innocence, and, to be honest, when the trial was going on, I had my doubts as I listened to what was presented. Wardog outlined some of the issues in what I found to be a very helpful posting on the background to all of this.
I certainly hope that if MacAskill frees Megrahi today, we are not subjected to him receiving a hero's welcome in Libya. He's not a returning hero. He would be a convicted murderer being released on compassionate grounds to spend his dying weeks with his family.
This is a day when everyone in the world will be watching Scotland and its judicial system. I think that there are clear questions over the way in which this decision, however right I think it is, has been made - and these questions could have been avoided. The SNP's incompetence on this is not going to show Scotland at its best.
UPDATE: Scott has given a link to his excellent posting on this subject in the comments but it's worth putting here. Despite chatting on Twitter for months, I'd never actually got round to visiting his blog until just now. I was impressed with what I saw, so I've added him to my blogroll.