Friday 21 August 2009

Lockerbie, Politics, Policy, and Prostates.

A while ago we lived in the north of England, and I wondered why at some times there would be a great many planes headed NNW overhead, but at other times none at all. Someone explained to me that the routing of transatlantic flights could vary according to weather conditions, notably relative wind speeds in the upper atmosphere. When the Pan Am flight came down in Lockerbie I realised that some 30 to 45 minutes earlier it would have been above our town.

It may be that whoever planted the bomb, assumed that it would be on the southern route, and therefore the plane would have been over open sea in the Western Approaches when the explosion occurred. Given my own flying experience, it could have been either close to or above the southern coast of Ireland. Had that been the case, it is likely that the onus would have been on the Irish, doubtless working very closely with the American’s. The UK’s role would have been one of support and co-operation.

Twenty plus miles south of Lockerbie then it would have been an English matter. That it happened within the jurisdiction of Scots Law made everything much more complicated at the time, and since. The business of whether Al Megrahi, the person convicted by an individual process of law, might be released to die on compassionate grounds has been equally complicated. The matter has become one of those deeply unpleasant and distasteful political issues that so often disfigure our public life today.

The spectacle of a man who allegedly killed so many American citizens and others at random being cheered to the echo by a crowd in Tripoli, possibly mostly hired hoods, waving the cross of St. Andrew is a deeply unhappy. As the mess over the handling of the matter deepens what is worse is the squalid and petty argument developing between Scots in London and Edinburgh as to who is really responsible for it.

One question is just how ill is Al Megrahi? There are suggestions that he looks very well in comparison to others whose condition is said to have deteriorated to the same extent. Are the Libyan doctors about to work a miracle? If he is still up and about when the next General Election is held, and Colonel Gaddafi is offering his usual advice to UK voters, what will the electors make of it all? As far as his treatment is concerned, he has certainly had a great deal more expert attention from the NHS than usual, many can die without ever seeing a consultant.

The big question, as always, is about oil supplies. Libya is an exporter, and said to have substantial untapped reserves accessible from dry land by ordinary technology, that is at relatively low cost. The UK is no longer self sufficient, and the import needs are steadily increasing. It is also a debtor and in need of someone, anyone, with available funds to take up its sovereign debt.

So the Foreign Office did a deal with the Colonel over prisoner exchanges. Perhaps much needed, because it may well be that the Colonel wanted Megrahi back, and may have been likely to arrest a number of UK citizens to hold. Given the propensities of many UK citizens to drink too much in foreign climes, never mind doing things in public that other people do not want to see, the Colonel would have found it all too easy to round up a thousand or two weeping boozers for ransom.

The question then, was how to spring Megrahi? Unluckily, as the plane came down in Lockerbie, this rested with Edinburgh. In the urge to score points off each other, the parties involved forgot the Yanks. But the Yanks had not forgotten Lockerbie.

The right answer would have been for the USA to come to a view with the Colonel, and then propose to London and Edinburgh a way of dealing with Al Megrahi. But Brown want to have the Colonel onside for any arrangements about oil quietly, and to let Edinburgh take responsibility for a questionable release, however Edinburgh wanted a huge public relations success, but only if it really smeared London. Remember, the 2010 Election Campaign is now well under way.

Both parties now to defend themselves have to disagree with Washington DC, as well as with each other, and this is not a happy situation. Insulting Secretary Mrs. Clinton is not a sensible option, whatever the SNP thinks, and President Obama is playing an honourable straight bat, whatever Labour in London might suggest.

The Yanks, more or less, are right, and in their various ways, London and Edinburgh have made a nasty mess of it; careless of the feelings of the families, careless of the long term implications, and careless of the damage being done to the last shreds of British or Scottish credibility anywhere.

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