Scotland the Compassionate no match for wily Libya

Despite the best of intentions, Scotland has been made to look an idiot over the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds. Al-Megrahi arrived back in Libya to a hero's welcome leaving the world asking why

When international politics begins to smell like oil it has this uncanny ability to stink. So too goes the bizarre case of the Scottish suck-up to oil rich Libya in the “compassionate” release of the ailing Pan Am bomber.

In delivering Abdel Baset al-Megrahi back to the bosom of his homeland to die a hero’s death, Scotland has laid herself bare for world wide vitriol, none of which should come as a surprise to anyone with a properly placed sense of sympathy, rather than the seriously warped one displayed by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

How to go from thinking you really were the Flower of Scotland to being summarily deflowered on a world stage… and sooo publicly too.

Of course Scottish Kenny can’t be blamed for the victorious welcome al-Megrahi received when his plane touched down at Tripoli airport. All that flag-waving and kissing and hugging and official pictures were not supposed to happen. Scotland swears it had warned Muammar Gaddafi against such things, but being caught so off-guard speaks volumes to the naivety of those involved from the British side. Hadn’t they studied the personality they were delivering their controversial cargo to? What about Gaddafi’s sons who are hungry for the limelight to assist with their respective applications for the old man’s job once he pops his Gucci loafers? Did the legal and political hierarchies of the once mighty British Empirereally expect al-Megrahi who has never admitted his crime, to be shuffled off the tarmac into a waiting police van and driven to the quiet seclusion of his family to die?

Then to add another layer of unease is Gaddafi’s chat about his good friend Gordon Brown, who he’d recently met with, and yes, petroleum deals were discussed. Strangely, when the Scottish Parliament was debating this whole thing on Monday, it was made very clear that the Scottish-born Prime Minister had yet to break his silence on the compassion of his fellow nationals – five days into the scandal.

The problem with this case is that just when you manage to whip up a full head of steam over the idiocy of being compassionate for the convicted murderer of 270 people on Flight 103 and in their homes in the town of Lockerbie rather than his victims, something uncomfortable niggles away. And I don’t mean MacAskill’s pass-the-bucket moment when he so theatrically told the world that al-Megrahi was facing a sentence from a “higher power”.

No, what chafes is whether anyone actually believes he’s the person responsible for the bombing, and there has always been considerable doubt he was anything more than a sacrificial lamb in Libya’s desperate quest to rehabilitate itself internationally. Well, the rehabilitation followed quick smart didn’t it?

In his inimitable way, The Independent’s Robert Fisk pulled out all stops on this issue with a weekend column pointing to complicity at the very least from the Lebanese... possibly a Palestinian connection... and likely Iran had its fingers in there seeking revenge from the American downing of an Iranian passenger jet.

Of course depending on how long al-Megrahi’s prostate cancer takes to finish the job set out by the 2001 special court in the Netherlands, and in the unlikely event of a deathbed confession, there will always be questions. For a starter, who else was involved?

And then there’s the untidy business of what’s in it for Britain?

Conveniently, Scotland is in the gun for the decision and the only form of support given so far is the astonishment on the part of Foreign Secretary David Milliband to suggestions there could be any quid pro quo. We give you the old dying terrorist, you give us access to your blisteringly hot and lucrative oil and gas sector. Hardly cricket, really.

On the oily face of it, you’d think the Scots would be the toast of Downing St. Not yet Jimmy. First there will be the time in the diplomatic sin bin with none other than Barack Obama waving his finger and questioning the grounds for compassion in turning the life sentence conveniently over to God. There have not so far been, nor will there be, any grounds for humane treatment of MacAskill & Co from across the Pond.

All the Brits can really do is press upon Prince Andrew to refrain from attending the big party Gaddafi is soon to hold to celebrate his forty years in power – the Prince having a strangely close relationship with Libyan regime. Yet a prince missing out on a few free drinks in a big flash tent is really deeply shallow given the depth of feeling of the relatives of the victims.

Many of those relatives have been active in the media endorsing the compassionate release; others have not. And who can blame them?

To be fair to MacAskill, had he come out and said no way this terrorist is going to get his sympathy and he can rot out his last cancer-riddled days in the slammer, he’d have been condemned for being a hard Scottish bastard.

The grave offence made was that of being so out of step with the politics and the known antics of showman Gaddafi who only a matter of a few years ago was in the state-sponsored terrorism business. Forgetting how the old Libya played the game has left dangling the possibility of a trade/oil component, and that’s likely to leave a large and sticky political slick.

Scotland the Brave? Not much choice for a while is there.