Richard Ingrams’s Week: If Scotland has to go, she will not be missed

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The Independent Online

I have a slightly soft spot for Baroness Scotland because I remember how, many years ago, she used to read the pages of Private Eye for libel. As did her husband Mr Richard Mawhinney.

Did she save the Eye from any catastrophic libel action? It is possible that she did but, my memory being nowadays like a sieve, I cannot very easily remember.

What is certain is that if anyone in those dear distant days had suggested that one day this rather undistinguished young libel reader would be the Attorney General, we would have laughed in their face.

I have heard it said by more than one person this week that the press campaign against her is motivated by racism. But is that right?

More widespread, I suggest, will be the suspicion that she owes her astonishing rise to the fact that she is (a) a woman and (b) black. That charge could well be unfair but it is undeniable that both of our main parties are nowadays desperate to include not only as many women in their front bench team as possible but also as many people of ethnic origin. It is all part of what is understood by being modern.

That said, Lady Scotland's political record is scarcely impressive. She served loyally under David Blunkett, the most reactionary of recent home secretaries with his contempt for what he called "airy fairy civil liberties", and has opposed a number of reforming liberal measures such as Lord Leicester's recent Bill to prevent the forced marriages of young Asian girls. In other words, if she has to go, she will not be greatly missed.

The spectre over Lockerbie

Have we now heard the last of the so-called Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi? The Government, and particularly the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, must be praying that we have.

Five weeks ago, I suggested that the prime reason for releasing Mr Megrahi, in spite of the inevitable protest from all corners of the earth, was to bring an end to his appeal – nothing to do with Libyan oil, or secret deals done by Tony Blair or Peter Mandelson.

The danger from Mr Straw's point of view was that it might eventually be shown that Mr Megrahi, convicted of the most terrible of crimes – the bombing of 270 innocent people – was not only innocent but had been framed with the connivance of the British and American security services.

Mr Straw, I pointed out, was old enough to remember the damage done to the reputation of the police and the courts by the wrongful conviction of several innocent men and women during the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s.

And now, thanks to a long article reprinted this week in The Independent on Sunday by the indefatigable lawyer Gareth Peirce, we learn that two of the government scientists who were accused of giving suspect evidence against those innocent Irishmen also gave evidence against Mr Megrahi in his trial before three Scottish judges.

Using the words "astounding", "shameful" and "profoundly shocking" to describe the Lockerbie investigation and subsequent trial, Ms Peirce has raised the spectre of a miscarriage of justice far more serious than anything in the 1970s. Mr Straw must be hoping that, in these degenerate days, nobody will be paying very much attention to her.

The things that politicians aspire to

Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London with a pledge to abolish the congestion charge in a large area of west London. Now he says it will have to be postponed – the main reason being that he stands to lose out on about £70m of revenue if the measure goes ahead.

One of his transport advisers has explained that the pledge was, in fact, only "aspirational". This is a new word in the political vocabulary but possibly a very useful one for any politician who is accused, as so often happens, of failing to do the things he promised before he was elected.

Did Gordon Brown, for example, promise to have a referendum on the new European treaty? Well yes, he might say, but it was purely aspirational.

Others could well make use of this valuable word. Lord Phillips, the head of the new Supreme Court, repeated in yesterday's Independent what many judges have been saying over the years; that they would reduce the number of people unnecessarily sent to our overcrowded prisons. It won't happen, and nobody will mind all that much.

This week, for example, a female teacher was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old pupil and was given an 18-month prison sentence. Of course, we are all expected to throw up our arms in horror at any harm being done to children, but what earthly purpose is served by sending this teacher to prison?

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