The release of the terminally ill Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie airplane bombing, is in the news again, due to the oil spill, of all things. The U.S. Congress wants to know whether there was a quid pro quo: whether BP lobbied the Scottish government to release Megrahi so that Libya would conclude a deal allowing BP to drill in its offshore waters. Having followed the Megrahi situation since 2008 because of its relevance to the Nationalist government in Scotland, whose policies and performance I have been following, I have some little expertise on this question. In my view, the posited quid pro quo is the least likely explanation for Megrahi’s release. Consider the following facts:
1) The evidence against Megrahi is less than rock solid. The case against him was built on the testimony of a single witness, later found to be unreliable. Later allegations of prosecutorial misconduct provided a foundation for appeal. In the event, his illness allowed the Scottish government to release him on compassionate grounds instead.
2) Releasing Megrahi allowed the Nationalist government of Scotland, which favors independence for Scotland, to flex its powers on the international stage. Scotland has less autonomy than an American state, but the current government has been trying to make the most of it.
3) Releasing Megrahi allowed the Scottish National Party to burnish its left-wing, peacenik credentials, important given that they have seen an electoral challenge on their left flank from far-left nationalists Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Party, and given that the SNP’s main electoral rivals are the Labour Party. The SNP has consistently tried to make inroads into the vote-rich Labour constituencies of Scotland’s Central Belt.
4) There was no reason for the SNP or the Scottish government to want to please BP or the British government, who did engage in diplomacy with Libya over the Megrahi issue. If anything, the British Labour government’s desire to release Megrahi would have given the Scottish government some opportunity to twist their tail over the issue and do the reverse.
Unfortunately, media coverage here in the U.S. has done little to elucidate the context behind the decision, which is likely to leave Americans to conclude that skullduggery was involved.