How devolution works: the Megrahi case and the discreet washing of hands

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Let’s say for talk’s sake that you are Mr Tony Blair. Let’s further suppose that you have in your prison system a foreign national convicted of 270 counts of murder. You can probably be confident that he’ll be out of sight, out of mind for ten or twelve years, but eventually his health is likely to fail him, and you might be faced with the question of what to do with a dying man, to whom it would be deeply politically problematic to give a compassionate release. What do you do?

If you’re a skilled politician, or a treacherous weasel, you might do something like this:

  • Sign a treaty with Colonel Gaddafi.
  • Include in that treaty a clause on prisoner transfers, which is realistically only going to apply to one man.
  • Devolve responsibility for this area to the Scottish government.
  • When the time comes, stand back and chuckle as Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill wonder how they ended up with this steaming turd of a decision.

You think that’s overly cynical? Maybe you didn’t see Alastair Darling suppressing a definite smirk on the news. The beauty of this is that, as the media, American politicians and victims’ families get het up, it’s the SNP that’s going to take the hit for a situation not at all of their making. The Westminster government has washed its hands of the matter, and the O’Bama administration, which has no responsibility in the matter, can throw as many hardline shapes as it likes without affecting the outcome. We can rest assured that, whatever the huffing and puffing in London and Washington, nothing will be done to seriously affect relations with our new friend Gaddafi.

Taken on this level, the Megrahi case just illustrates a common approach by politicians to the criminal justice system, which is to indulge in tabloid-friendly grandstanding (in this respect we can mention Michael Howard, David Blunkett and John Reid as particularly culpable Home Secretaries) while at the same time avoiding taking unpopular decisions. You may remember a few years back that there was a minor scandal about paroled convicts committing serious crimes. Who, it was asked, had taken the decision to parole these men? It turned out that they had been paroled by a computer programme, which I would guess had been set up precisely to avoid any individual having to take the fall.

In principle, I suppose, one would like there to be an individual who will take the decision and stand by it. That would be the democratic, as opposed to technocratic, position. On the other hand, having seen Jack Straw’s contortions over Jack Tweed and Ronnie Biggs, sometimes you just want to shake your head and say, “Feck this for a game of soldiers, let the computer do the heavy lifting. It’s less likely to be living in fear of what the Sun and the Mail will say tomorrow morning.”

Great discussion at Aaro Watch, and special thanks to Flying Rodent for background.

7 Comments

  1. August 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    […] Splintered Sunrise… Let’s say for talk’s sake that you are Mr Tony Blair. Let’s further suppose that you have in your prison system a foreign national convicted of 270 counts of murder. You can probably be confident that he’ll be out of sight, out of mind for ten or twelve years, but eventually his health is likely to fail him, and you might be faced with the question of what to do with a dying man, to whom it would be deeply politically problematic to give a compassionate release. What do you do? […]

  2. lenin said,

    August 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I agree with this, but far more importantly Megrahi shouldn’t have been convicted in the first place. I don’t know if he’s wholly innocent in this affair, but I do know that the trial that led to his conviction was a complete farce – as well as being, one suspects, a cover-up for some naughty-doing somewhere.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      August 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm

      Which may be why there was the choreography about abandoning his appeal. He may even be guilty, but further court proceeding might be embarrassing for some folks in high places.

  3. Doug said,

    August 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Some people might want to congratulate the Scottish authorities for not caving in toe the howls of outrage from various quarters. Something Blair wouldn”t have foreseen since caving in to right wing co-ordinated hysterics came naturally.

  4. Cian said,

    August 21, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    His was to make up (to US voters) for abandoning the Syrian/Iran angle, surely? For which the evidence seemed quite strong, but geopolitics…

    Given Megrahi was Libyan intelligence he had probably done some other nasty stuff, so I don’t feel THAT sorry for him. Ironic though. Fitted up for geopolitics, then let go for reasons of geopolitics (with the SNP shafted by NuLab). Wheels within wheels until you get sick.

  5. NollaigO said,

    August 23, 2009 at 10:48 am

    This morning the Andrew Marr Show was pulled at short notice and the BBC News Channel was substituted. Shortly after, the BBC website giving Sunday’s TV programs was altered with reference to the 9.00 Andrew Marr Show being deleted. I have being looking on the net for an explanation for the last couple of hours without success.
    Could it be related to the Lockerbie issue?
    I think we should be told.

  6. Vigilante said,

    August 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Political assassins and terrorists strike at the life blood of open, constitutional and democratic societies. Absent the death penalty, (which I agree should be abolished), these assholes should rot to death in prison whenever they can be caught and convicted. That’s what Megrahi was doing when he was let out, “Scot-Free”.

    As for Tony Bliar, I see he’s saying that his deal in the desert wasn’t including Megrahi. Well, like Bush & Cheney, we should take him at his word?


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