More startling revelations have emerged from Wikileaks over the UK/US government collaboration on the issue of the fate of the man known as the Lockerbie bomber – Abdelbaset Al Megrahi.
It has emerged that the previous Labour government agreed in 2008 to try to set up a channel of communication that would allow the US government to ‘apply pressure’ to the Scottish government on the matter of Al Megrahi.
The latest from wikileaks demonstrates that both London and Washington had concerns that the fate of Megrahi was now in the hands of the Scottish government and that any decision taken by the new nationalist administration could have repercussions for both nations in their dealings with Libya. The latest cables also show that UK government officials were keen to let the US know that they alone, and “not the Scottish”, controlled UK foreign policy.
From the cables:
At the same time, FCO contacts tell us that HMG is adamant that, despite devolution, London controls foreign policy for the UK, not the Scottish.
Embassy London is working with the FCO and the Cabinet Office to find a way to represent USG views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, without making any implicit statement about UK national foreign policy prerogatives.
The cables make it clear that both the UK and US authorities wanted to set up a line of communication that would ensure US views reached the “right officials” in the Scottish government in a “timely manner”.
This is the first time that HMG – and the USG – will face a foreign policy decision made under the constraints of devolution, and the channels that we establish now will set a precedent for future cases. In creating these channels, we will need to take into account sensitivities on the sides of both HMG and the Scottish Executive, while ensuring that whatever position we may want to convey in the Megrahi case gets to the right officials in a timely manner.
The revelation from senior US officials that a Labour government at Westminster secretly agreed to create a way for the US to effectively lobby the Scottish government on Megrahi will undermine claims from the previous Labour UK Ministers that they did not seek to influence the devolved process.
The wikileaks cables also show that UK Justice Minister Jack Straw told American officials that First Minister Alex Salmond would make the final decision on the release of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and not Kenny MacAskill. Mr Straw is alleged to have informed US Officials that he and the Scottish First Minister had held talks and that Mr Salmond had explained that, in the event of a compassionate release, then the First Minister would take the decision.
Although Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill would normally make the final decision, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Jack Straw that he will make the final decision in this case. Salmond told Straw that he would make the decision based on humanitarian grounds, not foreign policy grounds; Dixon told us HMG has interpreted this to mean that Salmond is inclined to grant the request. Publicly, Salmond has refused to speculate on what decision he might make.
The announcement of the compassionate release was made by Kenny MacAskill in August last year. The justice Minister has always insisted that he, and he alone, took the decision after consulting medical reports compiled by Scottish NHS doctors.
Contrary to the last sentence in the cable paragraph, Alex Salmond has never refused to “speculate on what decision he might make” for the simple reason that he has always insisted that the responsibility lay with Kenny MacAskill.
Revelations of the claims by Jack Straw are sure to be seized on by Mr Straw’s Scottish Labour colleagues who have always tried to insist that the decision involved the First Minister as well as the Justice Minister.
They will almost certainly be picked up by elements within the Scottish media who may well portray them as a statement of fact as opposed to a claim by a former Labour Minister.
Update – 10:00 am 09 Dec
It is being reported that Abdelbaset Al Megrahi has lapsed into a coma and is very close to death. Reports say that the man who was convicted of bringing down Pan Am 103 lost the ability to speak some weeks ago and is now on a life support machine.
There are many people both in the United Kingdom and around the world who believe that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice. Campaigners headed by Dr Jim Swire whose daughter Flora was one of the victims of the atrocity and QC Robert Black are calling for a full inquiry into the Lockerbie trial verdict.