Scottish Government loses Lockerbie vote

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Indy Politics

The Scottish government was defeated tonight in a Holyrood vote on the Lockerbie affair.

Opposition parties defeated the SNP in a series of votes on the decision by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds.

In the final vote, the Government was defeated by 73 votes to 50, with one abstention.

SNP ministers had asked the Parliament to endorse Mr MacAskill's decision as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice".

Before the final result was announced, Scots Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "This was a bad day for Alex Salmond's Government and for the First Minister himself.

"Releasing the Lockerbie bomber was a bad decision, made badly."

A series of four votes saw the Scottish Government defeated by 73 votes to 50, with one abstention each time.

First, MSPs backed a Tory amendment saying the possibility of releasing Megrahi to a location in Scotland was not adequately explored.

Then they backed a Liberal Democrat amendment critical of Mr MacAskill announcing his decision to free Megrahi at a press conference, rather than in Parliament.

The Lib Dem amendment said: "Justice and compassion for the victims' families have not been served by this process."

Then the MSPs backed a Labour amendment which accused Mr MacAskill of mishandling the process, and disagreeing with the decision to return Megrahi to Libya on compassionate early release.

A final confirmatory vote saw the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem amendments passed, again by 73 votes to 50 with one abstention.

This had the effect of overwriting an SNP motion which had urged MSPs to endorse Mr MacAskill's decision as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice".

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said after the vote: "The Scottish Parliament has made clear its opposition to both the decision to release Megrahi to Libya and the woeful handling of the decision and announcement."

He went on to call for the Parliament's Justice Committee to examine "as a matter of urgency" those areas of concern that fell within Holyrood's remit.

"The documents published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday cover a great deal of ground but they need to be examined forensically by a committee inquiry," he said.

"I call on every Parliamentarian to back this call so we can begin to get closer to the truth."

Labour backbencher Malcolm Chisholm voted against his party, in favour of the Scottish Government.

He announced his intention of doing do earlier, saying in the debate: "I'm certainly not ashamed of holding the same views as Nelson Mandela on this or any other matter."

Holyrood's two Green MSPs voted with the SNP, and five MSPs did not vote, including Tory MSP Ted Brocklebank.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald abstained.

A spokesman for Mr MacAskill said later: "Opposition attempts to politicise the Justice Secretary's humanitarian decision to send Mr Al Megrahi back to Libya to die have totally backfired."

He cited Mr Chisholm's decision, and said Mr Brocklebank "snubbed" the Tory leadership.

"Labour's attempt to pursue partisan politics on a justice issue has left them looking ridiculous and hypocritical in light of the Prime Minister saying that he respects the decision, and the Foreign Secretary also confirming that he did not want Al Megrahi dying in a Scottish prison," the spokesman said.

"In rejecting the tainted prisoner-transfer process and granting compassionate release, Kenny MacAskill made the right decisions, above all for the right reasons."

Ms Goldie said: "Tonight's vote is a clear message to Alex Salmond that the SNP Government's decision to release Mr Megrahi back to Libya is not in the Parliament's name, nor is it in Scotland's name.

"Mr Salmond's boast that he stands up for Scotland is in tatters."

The vote followed a three-hour debate which began with Mr Salmond calling Labour's stance on the release of Megrahi "totally and absolutely ridiculous".

The jibe came after Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared to confirm that the UK Government told Libya that it did not wish to see Megrahi die in jail.

The debate began with Mr MacAskill defending his decision to turn down Megrahi's attempt to be transferred to Libya as a prisoner, while granting his application to be given compassionate early release.

Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats attacked the decision and the way it was handled.

But tonight's victory for the opposition did not amount to a confidence motion and the Scottish Government appeared relaxed at the prospect of defeat.

Much of the opposition attack focused on Mr MacAskill's decision to meet Megrahi in Greenock prison on August 6, on the extent of the medical advice on the condition of the terminally-ill Megrahi, and on whether alternatives to send him home to Libya had been properly considered.

Labour leader Iain Gray said new "flaws" in the decision-making process had emerged daily.

Mr Gray, who opposed the decision to release Megrahi, said: "I made my judgment on the decision and the process, and I stand by it.

"I said the visit to Greenock was unnecessary and I believe I was right.

"I said compassion for Megrahi had to be balanced against the length of the sentence remaining and I believe I was right.

"I said compassion had to be balanced against the enormity of the crime and the guidance says I was right."

Ms Goldie said: "Emergence of the evidence that Gordon Brown was telling the Libyans that he did not want Mr Megrahi to die in jail is damaging for the Prime Minister."

She accused both Mr Brown and Mr Salmond of "nudge-and-wink diplomacy" on the case.

Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, criticised the way the decision was announced at a press conference, rather in Parliament.

"On the handling, and the spin, and the manipulation, this Government put publicity before responsibility," he said."