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Lockerbie bomber's release is a Scottish decision

The affair offered an opportunity for Scottish nationalists to assert their nation's independence.

By Correspondent / August 21, 2009

Former Libyan agent and convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (3rd l.) is is hugged by Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as he walks down the stairs upon his arrival at airport in Tripoli Thursday.

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For anyone already bitter at the early release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison, the sight of the reportedly terminally-ill Libyan receiving a hero’s welcome Thursday in Tripoli was hard to stomach.

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Hours earlier, the only person convicted of the murder of 270 people in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, was freed on compassionate grounds by Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary in Scotland’s first nationalist-run devolved government.

But while the spotlight elsewhere has focused on the outrage of US officials and victims’ relatives, in Scotland the affair is the latest chapter in the bitter battle between the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) and its political opponents.

Tim Luckhurst, a former editor of The Scotsman newspaper and critic of the SNP, pointed out that when powers were devolved to Scotland in 1999, the British government was careful not to hand over responsibility for foreign affairs, “in order to avoid to avoid giving nationalism the capacity to embarrass Britain abroad.”

“Britain cherishes its relationship with Washington and the Megrahi case handed the Scottish National Party the chance to disrupt it,” he wrote in The Independent. “This was not the behaviour of a grown up government.”

On the other side, the decision was applauded by Ewan Crawford – a former aide to an SNP leader – who described it as brave and principled, given that links with the US are crucial to the SNP.

“Many Scottish pundits and opposition politicians were consumed by what is called the Scottish cringe – the idea that some decisions are just too big for bonny wee Scotland and that Scots will inevitably make a mess of them,” he wrote in The Guardian.

“Far from being an embarrassment, perhaps the real shock is that it has been demonstrated to the UK that the relationship with America does not have to be based on utter subservience or strategic interests.”

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