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Religious pitch to US audience

Brian Taylor | 16:58 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

It was, we were repeatedly told, a quasi-judicial decision by Kenny MacAskill.

However, the tone of the announcement sounded more quasi-religious.

Tony Blair apart, it is not all that common for politicians in these islands to use faith-based imagery or language.

It is, however, standard practice in the United States.

This pitch, then, was aimed at least in part at assuaging disquiet across the Atlantic.

Particularly given the pressures upon him, this was a good performance by Kenny MacAskill: comprehensive and, for the most part, assured.

Just think. Would you care to rule upon the fate of another human being, knowing that your every word is being weighed by political rivals, by leaders around the world and, most challenging of all, by families who have lost loved ones?

Political decisions are seldom easy. Those bordered by persistent grief are exceptionally difficult.

Under questioning, Mr MacAskill adhered to consistent lines: the correct approach for a Minister to take.

Once a decision has been taken, vacillation is unhelpful.

So no encouragement for those who say that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi is innocent.

He was properly investigated, lawfully convicted and duly sentenced.

No encouragement either for conspiracy theorists.

Mr MacAskill told me and every inquiring journalist that there had been no deal with the UK Government or Libya or anyone else which prejudiced him in favour of the decision he took.

That had been motivated solely by compassion: justice tempered by mercy.

No support for prisoner transfer. The US families, he said, believed that it was contingent on the original trial arrangements that any sentence would be served in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill then criticised the UK Government for declining to produce evidence in support of their assertion that there were, nonetheless, no legal obstacles to prisoner transfer.

Not sure he was entirely wise to pick this particular political fight in the context of a statement which was based upon higher, more fundamental values.

However, the criticism, was very mild, noting merely that he found the UK Government stance "highly regrettable".

Then to the conclusion. Release on grounds of mercy.

Again, the language was deliberately faith-sounding.

Appealing to Scottish core values? That, of course, is open to humanist interpretation.

But how about citing "the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live"?

Well, you could say that too is open to a secular slant: faith in common humanity, perhaps.

However, a further sentence left no doubt whatsoever.

Mr MacAskill said that Abdelbaset al Megrahi "now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power."

Not, in truth, the everyday language of politicians here.

But then Lockerbie was, thankfully, no everyday event.


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