Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kenny MacAskill is already 'nationally accountable', Mr Kawczynski

The Megrahi affair seems to have caused a subtle shift in the devolution narrative in some parts, with the novel idea being advanced by the likes of Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski that it's somehow an unforeseen flaw in the system that Westminster doesn't have a way of "holding Scottish ministers to account from a national perspective". Newsflash for Mr Kawczynski : the whole point of devolution is that Scottish ministers should - within the limited scope of their responsibilities - be accountable first, last and always to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish people, and never to Westminster. Not even to the august body that is the All-Party Group on Libya. But he need have no fear - there is a very simple mechanism by which Kenny MacAskill will indeed be held to account on a 'national basis', and that will occur when the country which elected him in the first place holds its next national parliamentary elections in May. And if the 'respect agenda' has any meaning at all, David Cameron's response to Kawczynski's letter should be predominantly concerned with explaining that principle to a member of the Tory parliamentary party who clearly doesn't quite 'get it' yet.

As for Kawczynski's argument that Britain as a whole has a stake in MacAskill's decision because it affected the country's image abroad, I'd have said that above all else that's a compelling argument for British representatives beyond these shores to do a far better job of explaining the nature of Scotland's constitutional relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. Anyone who heard the brazenly ignorant John Bolton (a former US ambassador to the UN, for pity's sake) on Newsnight last week will know there's a mammoth job to be done on that score. But, there again, Kawczynski might want to be careful what he wishes for - the Americans may have been angry about MacAskill's decision, but American opinion is not the same thing as world opinion. (Admittedly the two are all too frequently conflated.) Does Britain really want to give up on the reflected glory of Nelson Mandela's high praise for MacAskill's courageous decision, for example?

It's struck me more and more in recent days that the real tragedy of Megrahi's situation (well, one of the many) is that if it hadn't been for the severity of his illness, he'd probably by now be well on the way to establishing his innocence, along with all the consequences that would bring - a long-overdue spotlight being shone on the American law enforcement agencies' central role in the miscarriage of justice, for instance. But, because of a cruel quirk of fate, and the stupidity of the law that insists compassionate release can only be considered for those who have dropped all outstanding appeals, the likes of Kawczynski and the US senators are now free to self-righteously prattle to their heart's content about the release of a "mass-murderer", and know that the law will permanently be on their side in defining Megrahi in that way. Instead of the widespread and irresistible calls we would by now be hearing for inquiries into the serious issues surrounding Lockerbie, ie. the identity of the real culprits and the Americans' motives for framing Megrahi, we are left - absurdly - with angry calls for 'investigations' into, of all things, Kenny MacAskill's conduct. This affair is fast starting to resemble a black comedy, and I dare say there are quite a few people on both sides of the Atlantic who can scarcely believe their luck.

You don't actually have to believe in Megrahi's innocence to see why the rules that have put us in this situation are cruel and indefensible. Any legal system that contains an appeals process is a legal system that tacitly acknowledges its own fallibility. By definition, therefore, any seriously ill prisoner protesting his innocence and still in the midst of an active appeal might just be telling the truth. So why force such a person to make the impossible choice of either giving up on his chance of compassionate release, or giving up his appeal? The widespread suggestions that Megrahi was admitting his guilt by opting for the latter course of action in such impossible circumstances are beyond idiocy. I can, I suppose, see the rationale for the principle that a prisoner in normal circumstances cannot be granted parole without dropping all appeals, but compassionate release for a man who has no realistic prospect of seeing his appeal through to its conclusion is a different matter entirely. It's a curious notion that the law has far less compassion for a man who it tacitly acknowledges might yet turn out to be innocent than it does for one it regards as guilty beyond all dispute.


  1. Great post!
    I'd like to hear how the good senators might self-righteously prattle on the honours bestowed upon Capt. William C. Rogers III after he shot down an Iranian Airliner - I believe it was a medal called the 'Legion of Merit' that the USA awarded this war criminal.

    I don't mean to reduce the debate to a 'Whit aboot' style slanging match, but America would do well to remove the plank from it's own eyes before addressing the mote in others.

  2. On the positive side, Jim, at least it's now looking a bit less likely that the Americans will get the chance to give Gary McKinnon a punishment fitting for a mass-murderer.

  3. That's true James but on Megrahi, I'll take Nelson Mandela's approval over condemnation from Barak Obama (stooge for Exxon oil) or David Cameron any day.