Monday, February 07, 2011

Cameron to make statement on Megrahi - a reminder of what Scottish Labour said at the time

I don't know what David Cameron is going to say when he makes his statement about the release of Megrahi later, but the BBC reports that it will be very embarrassing for Scottish Labour, who could not have been more condemnatory of Kenny MacAskill at the time.

Update: more than speculation, if the Herald is to be believed - they say the report by Gus O'Donnell says Labour did all it could to help Libya secure the release of Megrahi. You have to ask yourself what Iain Gray would have done if he had been the First Minister who had to make that decision.

For the record, I totally supported Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds at the time and wrote extensively about it. As far as I am concerned it was the right thing to do then and I can't imagine anything changing my mind on that.

I don't think I'll like much of what David Cameron has to say as he's been very critical of Megrahi's release in the past, but that's not really what today's about.

I've reproduced in full the speech made by Labour's leader in the Scottish Parliament (who, emphatically, is not Labour's leader in Scotland. That's Ed Miliband) on the day Parliament was recalled to discuss Megrahi's release. I also wrote about the bigger debate a week or so later here where I described Labour's contribution as an "erratic delivery of a poisonous argument".

I always thought Holyrood Labour's position was less to do with principle and more to do with trashing the SNP. Today may well turn out to be exruciatingly embarrassing for them.

So, from the Official Report, here's Gray's speech in full.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab): I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for his statement and for making it available in advance.

Last week, the Scottish Government made a wrong decision, in the wrong way, with the wrong consequences. The Scottish judicial process has compassion running through it. That is why we have no death penalty, that is why we have the right of appeal and parole, and that is why prisoners can apply for compassionate release. However, that compassion is at every point tempered by justice and by the rights of victims and wider society. That is why the final judgment in this case was rightly the minister's. He had a requirement to consider an application, but not a duty to grant it.

I acknowledge that the decision was a difficult one, but does the cabinet secretary understand how much it has angered the silent majority in Scotland? Does he understand how ashamed we were to see our flag flying to welcome home a convicted bomber? Does he understand how astonished we were when he visited a convicted murderer in prison? He quoted Jack Straw to justify that, but what Jack Straw told the Joint Committee on Human Rights was that

"A prisoner … would be invited to make written representations."

I have the letter here. Will the cabinet secretary now admit that it was his decision and his alone to visit al-Megrahi? He had no obligation to do so.

After that visit, al-Megrahi dropped his appeal. Will the cabinet secretary tell us whether there was any discussion of that in his meeting and—for the avoidance of doubt—will he publish his note of that meeting? How does the justice secretary explain the fact that the media told us a full week before the formal decision exactly how and when al-Megrahi would be released?

Surely the prisoner transfer application could have been ruled out because of the two on-going appeals that applied to the case. Instead, however, Mr MacAskill dragged that decision out over the 90-day recommended period and then rejected the application for prisoner transfer because the American families believed that the sentence would be served in Scotland. How does he think those families felt when he acknowledged in one breath that their views that the sentence would be completed in Scotland meant that al-Megrahi could not be released to a Libyan prison, but in the next breath he sent al-Megrahi home to freedom in Tripoli on licence, his sentence not commuted?

The cabinet secretary has mishandled the whole affair from start to finish. Between the scenes of triumph in Tripoli and the pain and anger at home and abroad, is there nothing that Mr MacAskill now regrets about 

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