The release of Megrahi

No prizes for guessing which topic we’re focussing on this week — the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.

Slugger O’Toole was in early with a roundup of reactions published on Thursday, before Megrahi was released.

Among the most important contributions this week came from Scott at Love and Garbage. He has a personal connection to the Lockerbie case, and his background in law also qualifies him to comment on the legal aspects of the story. In two separate posts he outlined why he felt that Kenny MacAskill is unfit to be Justice Secretary, believing that it was a major error to personally visit Megrahi.

Jeff felt that no matter what decision he took, Kenny MacAskill couldn’t win.

But quite apart from the decision itself, a lot of people got wound up about the way the decision was presented. The Economist‘s Bagehot noted that Mr MacAskill appeared to relish his “15 minutes” in the spotlight — and stretched it out to 25 minutes. Fraser Nelson on The Spectator‘s Coffee House blog similarly noted: “All too much of this is to do with theatrics; the phrase “Scottish government” – which Salmond’s administration is not – being repeated world over.”

But Flying Rodent thinks it unlikely that the Scottish Government made the decision in an attempt to gain publicity: “what kind of gibbering idiot could believe for a second that the SNP would benefit from releasing Scotland’s most notorious terrorist?”

On the other hand, Jay Stringer recalls the time two years ago when Alex Salmond “manufactured” a story about Megrahi:

He got lots of publicity out of it. Managing at no point to mention that it was he who had raised the issue in the first place.

You can’t shake the feeling that many people thought that a good aspect about the decision was the assertion of the power of the Scottish Government. For Emily Sutton at Total Politics, “MacAskill has proven Holyrood has teeth and isn’t afraid to bite.”

Charon QC’s view is that the decision was actually a sign of “weakness” from the Scottish Government.

The strength of the Scottish Government was something that was also important to Mike Smith at Auld Reekie Rants. But he feels that the decision was a sign of strength:

…whether one agrees with the decision or not, there is one thing that makes me proud of my country. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has taken a decision he knew would be unpopular in the UK and more particularly, the USA. But he has refused to bow to American pressure; refused to be bullied by the powers that be in the States. The decision to release Mr Megrahi was made in Scotland. Our country. Scotland’s decision. No one else’s.

Brian Taylor thought that Mr MacAskill’s statement was a “religious pitch to a US audience”.

Now that we’ve mentioned the USA, it is time to move on to the other aspect of the debate. A gulf appears to be present in opinion between Scots / Brits and Americans over the role of compassion in the justice system. But even many Scottish bloggers were asking, was Megrahi was a man who deserved compassion? A common theme was to compare Megrahi to other notorious criminals as a thought experiment.

Tom Harris asked if Thomas Hamilton would have received such a release. He noted:

I can’t shake the feeling that not far beneath the surface of this debate has been an assumption — and if not an assumption, then certainly a suspicion — that Al-Megrahi is innocent of the crime of which he was convicted eight years ago.

Ideas of Civilisation looked for reasons why Megrahi may be treated differently to those involved in other high-profile tragedies such as Baby P or Brandon Muir.

On the other hand, Caron suspects that it is Megrahi’s very notoriety that has made this such a big story: “If he were anyone else, he’d have been quietly released and nobody would really be any the wiser.” Caron also notes that British families may well feel that there was a miscarriage of justice, having memory of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four in this country. But she, like Scott and Love and Garbage, thinks that Mr MacAskill made a major error by visiting Megrahi in jail.

Bill Cameron is another blogger who gives the idea of showing compassion to Megrahi short shrift:

We are all going to die some day – it’s part of human existence, indeed of every living creature. The fact that someone happens to be dying of some incurable disease in prison does not make them any more deserving of ‘compassion’ than any other criminal serving a prison sentence who happens to be going to die there.

For Indygal it is not about showing compassion to Megrahi as much as it is about showing compassion to his family.

However, Subrosa is of the opinion that Megrahi and his family has already been treated very well. She contrasts Megrahi’s reported treatment from the NHS. He “appears to have had several specialists looking after his health”, while other sufferers of prostate cancer have had just one specialist.

Scottish Politics says:

To allow Mr al-Megrahi to die in a Scottish prison would be vengeance, not justice and it is important for the sake of our society that this distinction is always uppermost in our minds. Vengeance is rarely just and never merciful and breeds only resentment and hate.

Big Rab thinks that compassion is more important than retribution.

Compassion is surely one of the more endearing traits of the human condition. It is something which separates civilised and barbaric societies.

Revenge, retribution and punishment to the extent that they should be visited upon a man already dying and who poses no further threat or potential to harm anyone, no matter what he is accused or convicted of, is surely not the motif of a mature democtratic, civilised and dare I say it Christian society?

Or is it still an eye for an eye?

The contrast with mainstream opinion in the USA is made by many as it became clear how strong feeling was across the pond.

David Farrer posted his perspective to an American audience.

With incredulity, Jeff wrote on Twitter about a comment left by an American reader. “Fuck you, you bunch of dress-wearing twats.” Nice!

Scottish Roundup also received a comment from an American last week while the story was bubbling under:

I’d suggest a compromise. Release him over his home country of Libya from an aircraft flying at 31,000 feet; the same altitude that Flight 103 was flying at when the bomb was detonated. Give him an oxygen tank so he can breathe during the drop and remain conscious, but omit the parachute so he gets an idea of what the people on that flight endured prior to coming to earth. From that altitude, the fall to earth would take approximately 3 very long minutes. This monster deserves as much compassion as he showed to his victims.

Big Rab spotted a website called Rab notes: “I don’t recall similar boycott calls when young healthy and potentially active terrorists were released under the Good Friday Agreement (which incidentally paved the way for the outbreak of peace in Ireland) and of course neither should there have been.”

A similar note was struck by Stephen Glenn:

…of course there was no outcry about a mockery of justice from America about early release of Northern Ireland Terrorists who had killed in total more than that fateful night, many of whom showed no remorse. Indeed when Mo Mowlam stalled the release programme in 1999 when the IRA had broken the terms on arms procurement it was the Americans who spoke to urge her to carry on. Of course the Northern Ireland release programme was the right thing to do in the light of the peace process just as al-Megrahi’s is right in terms of his own imminent death.

Mr Eugenides had a slightly different take on the compassion angle:

…if we were really so concerned about allowing a man with cancer of the ass to see out his days with a degree of dignity, why the fuck did we send him out to the plane dressed as a ned?

All-in-all, Jeff struggled to understand many of the reactions to the story, describing other bloggers as “rabid”, “boneheaded”, “momenarily los[ing] leave of her senses” and “vacuous” among other things. Click through for the 800 word version.

In the aftermath of Megrahi’s release, the Scottish Parliament has been recalled a week early. This was just days after Alex Fergusson turned down a request from Tavish Scott to recall Parliament before Megrahi’s release. For Andrew Reeves, the move is “a bit like shutting the door, long after the horse bolted.”

Other issues now.

Neil Craig brings to our attention the fact that the Climatic Research Unit has “lost or destroyed” the data that would allow the construction of a global temperature record. Neil highlights the anti-scientific approach taken by Phil Jones.

On a similar note, Bernard Salmon reckons that the risk of getting bowel cancer as a result of eating red meat is overstated:

…the increased risk of bowel cancer from eating red meat is somewhere in the region of 20-25 per cent, which compares with an increased risk of lung cancer from smoking of up to 2000%.

Over at Bella Caledonia, a perspective on Trident and the Union.

Mike Cormack had a chat with someone which reminded him that “the large majority of people in Britain read the rightwing tabloids and broadsheets.”

David Cameron has suggested that he may be in favour of minimum prices on alcohol. Alex Massie:

…where’s the bleedin’ post-bureacratic age in any of this? Nowhere to be seen. Where is the Tories’ much-ballyhooed commtiment to localism? Abandoned, it would seem and not even sidelined in favour of anything good.

Tory Bear feels similarly: “What happened to personal responsibility, that little concept you spoke of just over a year ago. It wasn’t all nanny state and dictating to people what they should drink then.”

Returning to the political gulf that is apparent between Scotland / Britain and the USA, but this time going back to the issue of the NHS. John Connell has a look at figures comparing the UK’s healthcare system with the USA’s.

On to another topic that has also been recently covered, the attempt to charge for newspapers’ content. James thinks that is is part of the newspapers’ grief process.

Time for some navel gazing now. This year’s Total Politics blog poll results are slowly being drip-fed to a febrile blogosphere. This week saw the announcement of the top 50 Scottish blogs. Congratulations to everyone mentioned in the list.

Andrew Reeves had a look at how the Lib Dem bloggers did in the poll. Meanwhile, Yousuf noted that the presence of nationalist blogs was not as strong as might have been expected.

Finally — yes, we are almost at the end — an update on the bloggers’ meetup. Plans have been decided. We will be meeting on 27 August at around 6pm at Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh. Everyone is welcome to join us. Keep an eye on my blog for more information.

Next week’s roundup will be brought to you by Will P. Please get those nominations in the normal way, by using the contact form on the right or by emailing us: Thanks.


  1. A herculean effort Duncan. Well done indeed.

    See you Thursday~!

    (Let me be the first to suggest that for all your Scottish Roundup efforts you shouldn’t have to buy a drink…..)

  2. Thank you for the mention Stephen. What an excellent comprehensive coverage. I have my reading cut out for the rest of the evening.

  3. Great roundup Duncan, missing our latest on Lockerbie here:
    but more importantly (as I have pointed out on Our Kingdom) Fraser Nelsons article is just factually incorrect on several points.

    The title of the ‘Scottish Government’ is a term that was used after a consultation by the previous Labour administration concluded that few people knew what ‘Scottish Executive’ actually meant and it further confused the constitutional picture. The term would be used whether the SNP were in power or not.

  4. […] That is why I am thinking about moving back to having one weekly roundup covering the whole blogosphere, but with a more conscious attempt at integrating issues outside of politics. Perhaps one idea would be to have a special roundup when there is a major news event (such as the recent release of Megrahi). […]