'Boycott Scotland' bid to brand nation a global pariah

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A FURIOUS anti-Scottish backlash over the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber erupted last night as Americans threatened to cancel trips across the Atlantic and were urged to stop doing business with Scotland.

The Scottish tourism agency VisitScotland confirmed it had received e-mails from Americans saying they no longer wanted to holiday in Scotland in the aftermath of Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

The anti-Scottish feeling was fuelled by a new website called Boycott Scotland, which published Mr MacAskill's e-mail address and called on Americans to contact him directly to register their anger.

The website said: "Unless the Scottish Government rescinds this decision to release al-Megrahi, and if the British parliament continues to avoid intervening in the matter, we urge all Americans to protest this action by boycotting the United Kingdom and Scotland in full.

"Don't travel to Scotland or do business there (or in the United Kingdom in general) and don't buy any British or Scottish products."

VisitScotland suggested the website's creation was insignificant when compared with the number of Americans who regularly come to Scotland to spend their dollars.

But the agency admitted it had already had messages from the United States asking if Scottish holidays could be cancelled.

A spokeswoman said: "The strong and enduring relationship between Scotland and the United States will continue, as will the friendship between the American and Scottish people.

"Our priority is ensuring that American visitors and tourists are extended a very warm welcome to Scotland. One unattributed website is not a significant factor, when compared to the thousands of US citizens who visit and will continue to visit Scotland."

But just a few hours after Megrahi was seen stepping on to Libyan soil after being freed from HMP Greenock, the tourism agency revealed Americans had already started contacting them to indicate their displeasure at the decision.

"We have had several e-mails from people saying they may cancel," the spokeswoman said.

Iain Herbert, chief executive of the independent trade body the Scottish Tourism Forum, said: "This certainly means that we are going to have to work much harder than normal to attract Americans over here."

Americans are the biggest contributors to Scotland's 980 million overseas tourism market, accounting for 14 per cent of foreign visitors.

First Minister Alex Salmond insisted: "The relationship between Scotland and the United States is deep and enduring and will continue to be deep and enduring. We can't have a relationship based on always agreeing with each other. We have to have the ability to disagree where our system takes us in a different direction."

CBI Scotland director Iain MacMillan was hopeful that the economic damage would not be too severe. He said: "We came to America's side on 9-11, we have fought at the side of America in Iraq, we are close allies and I hope that this parting of company over Megrahi will be seen in the context of a much bigger alliance with America."

Despite the First Minister's confidence that Scottish/American relations would not be soured in the long term, a different story was emerging in cyberspace.

The Scotsman was bombarded by members of the public, who added their fury to the anger already expressed by US relatives and politicians by posting their views on our scotsman.com website.

"For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my Scottish heritage," said Richard Gordon from Florida.

Jim Yanacek, from Maryland, said Megrahi did not display any "compassion or conscience" when he "slaughtered the men, women and children on the aircraft".

But Mr MacAskill had some supporters. Carol Hamilton, of Pittsburgh, said that the release of a dying man was "high-minded, noble and eminently civilised. What he (MacAskill] said speaks well for Scotland and Scottish values."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Mr MacAskill made it clear in his statement that he expected that there would be opposition to his decision and that he understood the hurt and pain that the families would be feeling. But a decision had to be made and he has taken that decision."