Monday, 24 August 2009

Lockerbie - so, what happens next?

We've been looking at the calender. According to the medical advice Kenny MacAskill received on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi , the Lockerbie bomber has three months to live.

Well, twelve weeks out from the release of Mr Megrahi is November 12th, which, we all think, is the likely date of the Glasgow North East by-election. It will be interesting to see if the political furore lasts until then regardless of what fate has in store for the terminally ill Mr Megrahi.

There was no prospect of Mr MacAskill losing his head today - there was no process for that -and most of the opposition criticism bounced off him like candy floss missiles. But if the hero of Tripoli is still alive and the toast of the Arab world in three months time there could be trouble down the line.

What happens next? Labour spent most of Sunday rowing back from the nuclear option of a vote of no confidence in the Justice Secretary, that would simply allow Mr Salmond to call their bluff and the opposition have blinked first in the past.

That said the government motion in the planned debate on the Lockerbie release can be defeated in parliament next Wednesday - embarrassing but not terminal for Mr MacAskill and Mr Salmond. They are the government and can survive anything short of a motion of no confidence (two third majority required).

Meanwhile, the London press and the Tories are desperate to pull the row back to Westminster where they can have bite of the pie. Gordon Brown's press conference with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow at 2pm will be fun.

You can understand Mr Brown allowing the Scottish government to stew in it over the weekend and his reluctance to feed the SNP any ammunition they could throw back at him. (The SNP went to the extent of translated a Gaelic interview with Lib Dem MSP John Farquhar Munro to cite support for MacAskill's decision yesterday - and fair play to them for that.)

But Mr Brown is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and could comment freely. His continued reluctance feeds into the McCavity's cat pattern of behaviour the Tories have framed him with.

Martin Kettle in the Guardian just about sums up how Brown will be seen if he doesn't talk soon - and I don't mean about the English cricket team winning the Ashes. He's just sent congratulations on that, according to Laura Kuennsburg.

Further down the line are Colonel Gaddafi's 40th anniversary celebrations but before that there are the US network news programmes tonight. The interpretation they put on the Holyrood debate will raise or lower the political temperature in America overnight.

Incidentally I noticed the #Lockerbie thread on Twitter while the debate was running was pretty much all British commentary. That may or may not be indicative of American feeling on the issue but they were all over threads about the Iranian election and the like.

I know there's a time lag but is it that the US Twitterati were abed or just not interested? Time will tell.

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