In 2010, on this day First Minister Alex Salmond declared the result of the Referendum on Scottish Independence, attributing the unexpectedly strong "yes" vote to the explosive consequences of the al-Megrahi Affair.
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Scotland the BraveOnly eighteen months before, the Scottish National Party (SNP) had announced the referendum with little fanfare and absolutely no prospect of success whatsoever. Quite simply, the overwhelming majority of Scottish people were not yet convinced that the nation's unique identity demanded a further step from the devolved powers granted in 1999. That argument would not be won by the SNP or even its iconic leader Alex Salmond. Rather a demonstration of an obscure detail of Scottish Law would turn the "West Lothian" question on its head.
Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi (pictured) had been convicted of bombing a U.S.-bound Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988. Terminally ill, Scottish legal practice makes explicit provision for the early release of prisoners on compassionate grounds. Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill duly announced that al-Megrahi faced "justice from a higher power" and released him.
"Scots love nothing better than an underdog,"That nations could or might earn authority by demonstrating humility was not in the minds of other Western States. Nor was it purely a matter for Scottish concern. Because of the total of 270 fatalities, 190 were American citizens (including the Four Tops1). A transatlantic firestorm of criticism ensued, with US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the move - challenging the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Nothing could have swung the independence debate more forcefully than the shocking development of Brown, himself a Scottish "Son of the Manse" criticising the decision under pressure from the White House. Or perhaps the cynicism of Barack Obama speaking emotionally of the Four Tops. And worse, it was revealed that favourable trade arrangements had encouraged the British Government to exclude itself from the controversy.
Newsweek Magazine reported that ~ Although 69 percent of Scots acknowledge that the move has damaged their country's international reputation, the latest polls suggest that 43 percent of the population nonetheless approves of the decision. Two thirds of Scotland's lawyers believe the justice minister acted correctly in freeing Megrahi, and church leaders, both - Roman Catholic and Protestant, have endorsed the decision. "Scots love nothing better than an underdog," says political commentator Lesley Riddoch. "And so far the government has managed to look like the plucky little Braveheart of the piece" by standing up to U.S. Criticism.
After twenty long years, the sky over Lockerbie was blue. Dark blue.