Al-Megrahi and a thousand and one uses for a devolutionary settlement..?

There is speculation that the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is set to release the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi this afternoon. For all the US pressure, David Blair in today’s Daily Telegraph is in no doubt where the UK national interest lies:

Libya, under the newly pragmatic rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi, has become an important ally, ideally placed to help us combat terrorism and nuclear proliferation – the two biggest threats to British national security. So keeping Libya happy matters a great deal, particularly as the country also possesses 42 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and a similar abundance of natural gas. Thanks to our new friendship with Libya, BP’s biggest exploration project in the world is now under way inside Col Gaddafi’s domain.

Britain needs to make sure that nothing interferes with what diplomats call “our bilateral relationship” with Libya. If that means sending one 57-year-old prisoner back to his homeland, particularly if he happens to be terminally ill – so allowing him to be released on “compassionate grounds” – then so be it.

Adds: Will has more on the purer argument about compassion… Splintered Sunrise has a particularly interesting take on the role devolution is playing in these particular mechanics:

The beauty of this is that, as the media, American politicians and victims’ families get het up, it’s the SNP that’s going to take the hit for a situation not at all of their making. The Westminster government has washed its hands of the matter, and the O’Bama administration, which has no responsibility in the matter, can throw as many hardline shapes as it likes without affecting the outcome. We can rest assured that, whatever the huffing and puffing in London and Washington, nothing will be done to seriously affect relations with our new friend Gaddafi.

Brian Taylor at BBC Scotland notes that…

…in one respect at least, the interests of the United Kingdom government and security services have already been served by the ending of the Megrahi appeal. London does not want the disclosure of further documents relating to the case, as demanded by Megrahi’s legal team.

An end that was, we might speculate, contingent upon the man’s release today. And, perhaps, Lord Mandleson’s untimely visit to meet Gaddafi’s son. Well, maybe. At least all of it is in line with Blair’s (or rather the FCO’s) view that the release is in the UK‘s national interest.

Love and Garbage has a strong post questioning the fitness of MacAskill to be Justice Secretary… But Jeff actually thinks it has been one of the few cases where a minister has steeled his nerve to make an unpopular decision:

Kenny MacAskill was focussed throughout. The media, Westminster, the victims of the atrocity, US Senators and even the Secretary of State had their say, generally pleading with the Justice Secretary to keep Megrahi behind bars, but the decision was clearly Kenny’s own and the rather ludicrous quantity of news on the matter seemingly didn’t rush his decision.

Of course this is all speculation. It could just be, as the Peat Worrier says, about the quality of mercy just not being strained

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty