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Wikileaks cables bring Megrahi back into the headlines

December 8, 2010
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The ongoing Wikileaks release of US diplomatic communications has had its first major repercussion for devolution. The release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, was one of the most rancorous disputes in the Scottish Parliament’s history.

The latest files reveal that Britain was worried about its interests (widely thought to be oil exploitation deals) in Libya if Megrahi was allowed to die in his Scottish jail. They also say the Scottish Government badly misjudged the public reaction to the release, which turned out to be very negative.

But how will the governments in Edinburgh and London respond to this? Alex Salmond may choose to describe this as a vindication of his stance that he was always a straight broker in the affair. But the claims he was out of his depth in international politics and attempting to use the issue for political gain might be embarrassing. The critics of both Salmond and Labour in Westminster who say the release was about an irresponsible deal over business interests will find plenty of ammunition. We’ll keep an eye on things as they develop later on Wednesday.

So far Torcuil Chrichton has a commendably early reaction up on his blog which is well worth a read, and the Guardian’s Severin Carrell has a good roundup of the issue’s history here.

I’ll finish for now with a brief extract from that first cable, as it gives an insight into how the US is beginning to see Scotland as a devolved nation:

Comment: Devolution and Foreign Policy

This is the first time that HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) – and the USG (United States Government) – will face a foreign policy decision made under the constraints of devolution, and the channels that we establish now will set a precedent for future cases. In creating these channels, we will need to take into account sensitivities on the sides of both HMG and the Scottish Executive, while ensuring that whatever position we may want to convey in the Megrahi case gets to the right officials in a timely manner.

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