Chris Marshall: MacAskill’s book giving successor a headache

Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is causing a stir with his book on the Lockerie bombing. Picture: Michael Gillen
Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is causing a stir with his book on the Lockerie bombing. Picture: Michael Gillen
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In case you hadn’t noticed, the former Cabinet Secretary for Justice has a book out.

Shunning the convention of publishing one’s political memoirs, Kenny MacAskill has instead chosen to wade in on the Lockerbie bombing and the controversial early release of the only man ever convicted for his involvement in the atrocity.

Mr MacAskill has been touring TV and radio studios to promote the book, which he began working on while still an MSP. Setting aside the issue of whether he has broken the Official Secrets Act with some of his revelations (as has been suggested), the book has raised further questions about the Scottish Government’s role in the 2009 release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Appearing on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday morning, Mr MacAskill said Scottish ministers had attempted to use Megrahi’s release to win compensation and gain new powers for Holyrood.

The former justice secretary said the SNP government wanted its UK counterpart to cover the cost of money paid to prisoners in Scotland’s jails after a legal ruling that slopping out their toilets breached their human rights. He said the request was refused, as were calls for powers on air weapons to be devolved.

It’s all rather at odds with the tone taken by Mr MacAskill at the time, when he said Megrahi - who had terminal cancer - was being released on compassionate grounds, and compassionate grounds alone.

Quoted in a Sunday newspaper at the time of the release, amid accusations the Scottish Government had attempted to broker some kind of deal, Mr MacAskill said: “The decision on Megrahi was mine to take and mine alone – and I did so according to the due process and practice of Scots Law, without regard to economic, diplomatic, or any other considerations.”

That seems to be completely at odds with the story he is now trying to sell.

The decision to release the Lockerbie bomber was undoubtedly the biggest mistake of Mr MacAskill’s error-strewn time as justice secretary.

His attempts now to paint the Scottish Government as a hapless pawn in a bigger geo-political game being played by the UK and the United States are distasteful.

Nearly 20 years on from Lockerbie, there are those who continue to fight for the truth, believing Megrahi to be innocent.

Indeed the Justice for Megrahi campaign, which counts among its members those who lost loved ones in the 1988 bombing, fights even now to clear the Libyan’s name.

Mr MacAskill is not one of them, though.

He still believes Megrahi was involved, although he was merely a “foot soldier” in a “coalition of the willing” that probably involved Libya, Iran, Syria and Palestinian terror groups.

Last night Justice for Megrahi accused Mr MacAskill of “frustrating the very search for justice that he proclaims to be pursuing in the title of his book”.

All of this must be proving a real headache for Mr MacAskill’s successor, Michael Matheson.

Already working to unpick some of the more dubious decisions made during Mr MacAskill’s tenure, the new justice secretary now has to put up with daily headlines about the Scottish Government’s role in Megrahi’s release.

The minister won’t be the only one happy to see Mr MacAskill’s publicity tour come to an end.