Friday, August 28, 2009

Three in five Scots oppose Megrahi's release

Alison Orr, who wrote an open letter to Hillary Clinton

Published Date: 29 August 2009
By David Maddox
Scottish Political Correspondent

SCOTS believe that their country's reputation has been badly damaged by the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, a new poll has revealed.
The ICM poll of 1,005 people across Scotland also showed that a clear majority disagreed with the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, with 60 per cent opposed and just 32 per cent in favour.

Opponents of the SNP government last night said the poll added to growing evidence that the decision taken by SNP justice secretary Kenny MacAskill was not one which commanded support in the country.

And there appeared to be question marks over whether Mr MacAskill was giving his real reasons for Megrahi's compassionate release.

The poll, conducted for the BBC, revealed that 68 per cent did not think his decision was made purely on legal grounds, as Mr MacAskill has insisted.

This follows conjecture over whether trade agreements played a part or whether the minister had private doubts over Megrahi's guilt.

The survey also showed that the reputations of both the Scottish and UK governments have been dealt a blow domestically by the events of the last fortnight.

Even though he played no part in the decision, the reputation of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suffered according to 68 per cent of those polled. He has consistently refused to say whether he believes it was correct to release Megrahi.

The Scottish Government fared even worse, with 76 per cent believing it was now held in lower esteem.

Even 53 per cent of those who agreed with Mr MacAskill's decision accepted that the Scottish Government's reputation had been damaged.

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie claimed the poll showed that Alex Salmond's government had got it wrong.

She said: "The SNP, a party which boasts that it stands up for Scotland, has actually let Scotland down badly.

"But it is not just Alex Salmond who has been found wanting on the international stage, Gordon Brown has played his part too. What murky deals have been going on behind the scenes to free Mr Megrahi?"

The one crumb of comfort for the SNP was that only 32 per cent thought that Mr MacAskill should resign, compared to 60 per cent who believe he should continue in office.

But the greatest concern is over Scotland's reputation abroad, with 74 per cent believing it has been dealt a serious blow following the scenes of Saltires waving at the hero's reception for Megrahi in Tripoli.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "What is of serious concern is that three-quarters of those polled say it has damaged Scotland's reputation abroad. Alex Salmond now has to come forward and say how he intends to repair that damage.

"I believe the whole process was mishandled from start to finish and a clear majority say it was wrong for Mr MacAskill to visit Megrahi in prison. Kenny MacAskill must return to the Parliament to justify his mishandling of this affair."

This is the second poll taken in Scotland which has revealed that a majority of voters oppose the compassionate release.

A Yougov poll carried out earlier this week showed Scots split 51 per cent against and 43 per cent in favour.

It also provided evidence of a knock-on effect to SNP support while backing for independence fell to a long-time low of 28 per cent. This followed concerns about how an SNP led independent Scotland would conduct its foreign policy.

Mr Salmond's personal rating dropped by four points to 32 per cent, a new low since taking power in 2007.

But last night Mr MacAskill came out fighting.

A spokesman said: "The justice secretary made a brave and difficult decision, and the poll shows strong support for him, even among people who disagree with the decision.

"Regardless of their view, people recognise that Mr MacAskill upheld the due process of Scots law in difficult circumstances. It was inevitably controversial, but we believe will be seen as the right decision for the right reasons."

There were also problems for Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott last night. Former UK party leader Charles Kennedy has come out in support of the decision despite opposition to it from Mr Scott.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said: "It is not surprising that some disagree very strongly, given the scale of the atrocity committed, but I think the decision was probably the right one, even if it was not necessarily taken in the right way."

He added: "This is not a party political matter, and it should not really be an international political matter either."

Former Liberal leader and Holyrood presiding officer Lord Steel has also supported Mr MacAskill and the YouGov poll showed a majority of Liberal Dem voters thought MacAskill had done the right thing.

There have been calls made in The Scotsman by church leaders for a free vote on the issue in Holyrood when it is debated next Wednesday.

Glasgow Roman Catholic Archbishop Mario Conti and Rev Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church of Scotland's church and society group, are among Mr MacAskill's highest profile supporters on the issue.

At least three Liberal Dem MSPs are understood to support Megrahi's release and Labour's Malcolm Chisholm also opposes his party's line against it.

How Scots answered poll

Was Kenny MacAskill's decision right or wrong? Right: 32% Wrong: 60% Don't know: 8%

Should MacAskill have visited Megrahi in Greenock prison? Yes: 36% No: 52% Don't know: 12%

Do you believe the decision was taken purely legal grounds as claimed by MacAskill? Yes: 20% No: 68% Don't know: 12%

Should MacAskill resign as justice secretary? Yes: 36% No: 56% Don't know: 8%

Has the Scottish Government's reputation been damaged? Yes: 76% No: 21% Don't know: 3%

Has Prime Minister Gordon Brown's reputation been damaged? Yes: 68% No: 29% Don't know: 3%

How has it affected Scotland's reputation? Damaged 74% No difference: 10% Enhanced: 11% Don't know: 5%

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