This afternoon a recalled Scottish parliament is due to discuss the decision of its justice secretary to release convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi. It promises to be an uncomfortable session for the SNP administration, but newspaper suggestions that Alex Salmond’s minority regime could be toppled are guilty of overstatement. Although unionist parties in Scotland remain happy to make political capital from nationalist misgovernment, there is little genuine appetite to bring down the executive.
The Conservatives have been most consistent in their opposition to Megrahi’s release. However justice spokesman, Bill Aitken MSP, has indicated that a vote of no confidence in Kenny MacAskill, whilst possible, would be ‘premature’. The Tories have something of a contradictory relationship with nationalists in Scotland, despite taking a strong line on the Union.
On this issue, Labour’s response is even more problematic. The party’s Scottish leader, Iain Gray, has spoken out against releasing the bomber on compassionate grounds, and other senior Labour figures have voiced their concern. However Gordon Brown has remained stubbornly silent, despite the affair’s international repercussions. The SNP, for its part, has pointed out that Gray’s opposition appeared to develop, only after a decision was reached.
It seems highly improbable that Kenny MacAskill will face a no confidence vote in the foreseeable future, unless he makes an enormous mess of this afternoon’s proceedings. Alex Salmond’s position, lamentably, is safe for the time being.
The unionist parties do have an opportunity, however, to undermine confidence in the minority nationalist executive. It is regrettable that they remain more focussed on their own differences, rather than the separatist threat, and will not therefore round collectively on an administration which is doing Scotland, and the United Kingdom, substantial damage.