I consider the chain of events which set in train the bomber's release and conclude:
[It's} Hardly surprising that after the release took place last August, opponents alleged Labour was secretly delighted. The party had secured its preferred outcome without getting its hands dirty. A nationalist Scottish Executive, flexing its muscles and styling itself a ’government’, was more than happy to boast that it had reached its decision independently.
When Kenny MacAskill appeared in front of the world’s press to deliver a crowing speech about the unique ’humanity of the Scottish people’, he didn’t expect that his ruling would cause the SNP to crash in the polls. Nor could he anticipate that a full year later Megrahi would remain alive and American fury would be unabated.
MacAskill is now attempting to wriggle off the hook, claiming that he did not have ’a great deal of discretion’ over the matter and merely followed procedure. That‘s a stark contrast with twelve months ago, when he positively revelled in the limelight.
Meanwhile the First Minister, Alex Salmond, prefers to brazen things out, insisting that the decision was reached for the right reasons. In truth, the Scottish Executive chose the wrong issue to attempt to parade its autonomy in front of an international audience. Rather than showing strength and independence, it seemed parochial and out of its depth. The UK government, many observers concluded, had stitched it up like a kipper.
Unfortunately for David Cameron, however crafty his predecessors might have appeared, the release was a classic example of short-termism. A year on, the BP connection is back in the spotlight, medical experts suggest that Megrahi could live for another decade and the US is seething that its closest ally let a mass murderer swan off to claim adulation in the Middle East.
The new British prime minister is left to clear up a diplomatic mess not of his making and the affair highlights a problem which could be of even greater concern. Megrahi’s release shows that the Westminster government can be powerless to prevent a devolved region making a decision which impacts directly upon UK foreign policy, or acts to the detriment of the national interest.
Although MacAskill probably had the tacit agreement of London, in these circumstances and pressure may even have been brought to bear on the Scottish Executive, he still had the potential to disrupt relationships between Britain and the US.
As the Prime Minister returned from an uncomfortable first official visit to America, he had cause to contemplate the mercurial nature of devolution back home. Eleven years after its introduction to the UK, the consequences have not yet been fully explored or understood.