The last 48 hours or so have provided yet another textbook example of a lack of imagination on the part of opposition politicians in Holyrood, and (to invert Andrew Marr's infamous phrase) they look like rather smaller people tonight as a result. A much more thoughtful response to the Scottish government's refusal to send ministers and officials to testify in person at the US Senate would have been to echo Jack Straw by noting how unusual - verging on the unheard-of - it would be for such testimony to occur before the legislature of another sovereign nation. That observation would not in any way have compromised the opposition parties' established stance that Megrahi should not have been released. Indeed they could have reiterated that point volubly, underlining that they only oppose the government where there's a principled disagreement, and not for opposition's sake. But it was always too much to hope for that the likes of Richard Baker would show that sort of class. For him, if a decision has got Alex Salmond's name on it, it's an outrage - end of story...
"It is quite extraordinary Kenny MacAskill has ruled out appearing before the US Senate inquiry. He and Salmond are the men responsible for the decision and they are now running scared."
A comment that now begs the obvious questions - is it "extraordinary" that Baker's senior party colleague Jack Straw has also ruled out attending the hearing in person, for near-identical reasons? Would Baker care to tell Straw to his face that he's a coward?
I dare say Labour's response to what I've just said (indeed as far as I can see it's the only conceivable defence they've got) would be that devolution offers the Scottish party scope to diverge in its views from its Westminster colleagues. Well, I'm all for that principle - but in reality, does anyone seriously believe that there would be so much as a cigarette-paper between Baker and Straw in any other circumstance than an opportunity to bash the SNP?
While Annabel Goldie might not have to worry about contradicting her London overlords, her own contribution to proceedings has been pretty poor as well -
"The SNP would be the first to complain if anybody refused to co-operate with them so they must comply with this request from the US Senate."
Come off it, Annabel. Alex Salmond is indeed noted for insisting upon proper respect for Scottish institutions, but the idea that he would be arrogant enough to demand that a senior member of the US government or the governor of a US state should appear before a committee of the Scottish parliament upon request (which would be the rough equivalent of what is being asked of him) is utterly risible.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Scotsman's report on Straw's snub to the Senate is the suggestion from his aides that he is effectively being invited to speak on behalf of the Scottish government, for their decision to release Megrahi. Whereas the Scottish government, for their part, are declining the invitation partly on the grounds that they are effectively being asked to answer for the UK government's collusion with BP over the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Is there a contradiction here? No, because the Senate committee is indeed absurdly demanding that both administrations answer for the other by muddying the waters in the stated focus of its inquiry between two separate issues that aren't and can't possibly be linked. It seems to me Kerry and co have got to decide whether they're investigating a) the release of Megrahi on compassionate grounds, or b) BP's involvement in the 'deal in the desert'. If they persist with their boneheaded insistence that it's c) "the link between the two", then the least they should be expected to do is specify their grounds for reasonable suspicion that such a link might exist. "Megrahi is a bad guy, BP are bad guys and I've got an election to fight in November" does not constitute such grounds.