Salmond facing confidence vote over Megrahi release

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ALEX Salmond and his SNP government could face a vote of confidence over the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, opposition politicians warned today.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was making a statement to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, setting out his reasons for agreeing the compassionate release for Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who flew home to Libya last week.

MSPs will then have an opportunity to quiz Mr MacAskill.

There will be no vote today, but Scottish Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken MSP said today's exchanges could result in a no confidence motion against the SNP government at a later date – although he believed such a move was currently "premature".

He said: "We will be interested to see what explanation Mr MacAskill comes up with.

"Thereafter we will consider the position.

There's real concern over what most people think is a crass decision handled very badly.

"The SNP government has demonstrated a degree of amateurishness which has caused us embarrassment. Scotland's international reputation has taken a real hit in this respect."

He added: "The UK government doesn't come out of this too well either.

There are inconsistencies in what Lord Mandelson has been saying and what Colonel Gaddafi's son has been saying (about what was behind the decision)."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray accused Alex Salmond of trying to wash his hands of the decision to release Megrahi by claiming it was the inevitable consequence of the application for compassionate release.

Mr Gray said: "The fact is they did not have to release Megrahi. His Justice Secretary had to consider the recommendation but the final decision was his."

But SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson accused Mr Gray of opportunism over his position on the release.

He said: "Last Tuesday, Iain Gray refused to give his opinion on compassionate release, which he said must be based on the medical reports. The Justice Secretary's decision was indeed based on the medical evidence – which he published, showing a life expectancy for Mr Al Megrahi of some three months. Yet quite shamefully, at that point – and only at that point – did Iain Gray oppose compassionate release.

"Scotland's Justice Secretary made the right decision, and above all he made it for the right reasons."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said Scottish Parliament should have been consulted before, not after the decision to release Megrahi.

He said: "Parliament must be the final check and balance to the Government's unbridled power to make decisions that could damage the reputation of the nation.

"The SNP Government's unilateral decision to release a convicted mass murderer has brought Scotland's standing in the world to an all-time low.

"The SNP's credibility at home and abroad is in tatters. Scotland's must not be allowed to follow with it."

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