Cablegate: Scottish Parliament Holds Emergency
INFO LOG-00 AF-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 INL-00 DODE-00 PERC-00
PDI-00 DS-00 DHSE-00 FBIE-00 VCI-00 H-00 TEDE-00
INR-00 IO-00 L-00 MOFM-00 MOF-00 VCIE-00 NEA-00
DCP-00 NSAE-00 NIMA-00 PM-00 SCT-00 DOHS-00 FMPC-00
SP-00 IRM-00 SSO-00 SS-00 NCTC-00 SCRS-00 PMB-00
DSCC-00 PRM-00 SAS-00 FA-00 PESU-00 /000W
O 241405Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3245
INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI IMMEDIATE
DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
FBI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 001946
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE AND NEA/MAG
EO 12958 DECL: 08/24/2019
TAGS PREF, PTER, UK, LY
SUBJECT: SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT HOLDS EMERGENCY
DEBATE OVER MEGRAHI DECISION REACHES FEVER PITCH
REF: A. LONDON 1925 AND PREVIOUS B. STATE 80743
Classified By: Ambassador Louis B. Susman, reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (C/NF) Summary. The Scottish Government severely underestimated the both USG and UK public reaction to its decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi on August 20. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has privately indicated that he was “shocked” by FBI Director Mueller’s public letter. The media continue to report U.S. anger over the decision, and concern Scotland will be targeted economically, through reduced U.S. tourism and whiskey boycotts. The media speculate that the UK Government had a hand in the deal to maintain good diplomatic relations with Libya and secure oil and gas deals, which the UK Government has denied as “completely wrong” and “offensive.” Today (August 24), the Scottish Parliament meets to hear Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s explanation of his decision. The media speculates that Scottish opposition parties, all of which are on record condemning the decision, may move against the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) minority government in a vote of no confidence, though the two-thirds majority required to secure such a move would be very difficult to obtain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has not yet made a statement on Megrahi’s release, with other Cabinet members maintaining that it was a decision for the devolved Scottish Government. Given growing discontent and speculation about a UK Government hand in the deal, Brown may have to make a statement soon. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are using the issue to call into question the SNP government’s credibility and competence. End summary.
Reaction to USG Statements
2. (C/NF) The UK media have widely reported on FBI Director Mueller’s letter to MacAskill and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen’s comments on the Scottish Government’s decision to grant compassionate release to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. Washington-based Scottish Government Representative Robin Naysmith told CG Edinburgh Sunday, August 24 that Scottish First Minister Salmond was “shocked” by Mueller’s comments, which were “over the top” given that President Obama had already commented on the decision. Naysmith underscored that Scotland received “nothing” for releasing Megrahi (as has been widely suggested in the UK and U.S. media), while the UK Government has gotten everything - a chance to stick it to Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) and good relations with Libya. (NOTE: We expect Naysmith to be engaging heavily in Washington on these issues. END NOTE.)
3. (C/NF) The media have also reported growing concerns that American anger over the decision will translate into a boycott of Scottish whiskey and reduced American tourism in Scotland, an approximately USD 416 million business annually. In a previous meeting with CG Edinburgh on Friday, August 21, Salmond reiterated that he and his government “had played straight” with both the USG and UK Government, but implied that the UK Government had not. During the meeting, which occurred before the Mueller and Mullen statements, he said he wanted to move beyond the Megrahi issue and deepen Scotland’s relationship with the USG. He said the Libyan Government had offered the Scottish Government “a parade of treats,” all of which were turned down. (NOTE: Roughly fifty percent of Scottish exports go to the U.S., and over 450 U.S. businesses employ over 100,000 Scots in Scotland. END NOTE.)
4. (SBU) Scottish Government statements, including those from Salmond, have acknowledged the “strongly-held views of the American families,” but underscored that those views are not shared by all of the victims’ families (referring primarily to the British families). Salmond defended the decision, saying it was “right in terms of (the Scottish) legal system” and “what (they) are duty-bound to do.” Salmond is also reported in the media to have said that the USG had made clear that, while it opposed Megrahi’s release, it regarded freeing him on compassionate grounds “far preferable” to a transfer under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA). (NOTE: While indicating the USG’s preference for compassionate release over a PTA transfer, as described in reftel B, Salmond’s statement does not mention the USG’s strong opposition to any release, particularly one that would allow Megrahi to travel outside of Scotland. END NOTE.)
Scottish Parliament Holds Emergency Session
5. (SBU) The Scottish Parliament holds an emergency session Monday at 1430 local time (August 24), calling on Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to explain his decision. All three opposition parties in Scotland (Labour, Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) have condemned the minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s decision to release Megrahi. The media openly speculate that a vote of no confidence will occur if MacAskill does not resign, but it would be difficult for opposition parties to garner the two-thirds majority required (87 of the 129 seats), if the SNP is able to maintain control of its 47 Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
6. (SBU) Scottish opposition political figures, like Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell, have condemned the decision to release Megrahi, calling it a “grave error of judgment.” Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavis Scott said, “The SNP’s credibility at home and abroad is in tatters. Scotland’s must not be allowed to follow with it.”
Compassionate Release for Oil and Gas?
7. (SBU) The UK media widely speculates that the UK Government had a hand in the decision to release Megrahi in order to maintain good diplomatic relations with the Libyans and to secure oil and gas deals, citing the now infamous 2004 “deal in the desert” between former PM Blair and Libyan leader Qaddafi, recent meetings and correspondence between PM Brown and “Muammar,” a recent meeting between Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, and other high-level trade delegations. Qaddafi’s personal thanks to Brown, the Queen, and the British Government after embracing Megrahi in a televised statement have fanned the flames and increased calls for Brown to explain the UK’s involvement in the decision-making process. Mandelson insisted to the media that it is “completely wrong” and “offensive” to suggest that Megrahi’s release was linked to trade deals. A Foreign Office contact reiterated to Poloff August 24 that such speculation is “completely absurd.” He acknowledged that the Libyans had raised Megrahi at every turn in their burgeoning diplomatic relationship, but said that Megrahi’s release was “never directly or implicitly” linked to any deal.
UK Government Reaction
8. (C/NF) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is currently on holiday in Scotland, has refrained from comment. Acting PM Chancellor Alistair Darling has said, “you either devolve the responsibility for criminal justice or you don’t,” a position that Foreign Secretary Miliband supported in interviews on Friday, August 21. Miliband affirmed that “the sight of a a mass-murderer getting a hero’s welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing.” Conservative leader David Cameron has sent Brown a public message condemning the decision and calling on Brown to “make clear his own views” on the decision.
9. (C/NF) Foreign Office North Africa team leader Rob Dixon told Poloff August 24 that the UK has been telling the Libyan Government, through Saif al-Islam and the Foreign Ministry, that the Libyan Government’s handling of its September 1 national day festivities will determine the future of the UK-Libya bilateral relationship. Dixon explained that the UK has explicitly told the Libyans that Megrahi should not be featured in any high-profile way. He said that the UK has also told the Libyans that Qaddafi’s personal thanks to PM Brown and the Queen were “unhelpful” and the UK Government’s “unhappiness” had been communicated “in clear terms.” Dixon said the Foreign Office will take stock after the September 1 festivities.
10. (C/NF) Dixon termed “absurd” MacAskill’s comment (in his original August 20 statement about Megrahi’s release) that the UK Government’s refusal to make representations was “highly regrettable.” Referring to MacAskill’s welcoming of a public inquiry into the case, Dixon said such an undertaking would be “nearly impossible” given the way devolution works. Dixon implied that the comments were designed to blame the UK Government for putting the Scots in a position to have to make a decision. Dixon told Poloff on August 24 that the Foreign Office had had no contact with the Scottish Government since the decision was announced.
11. (C/NF) It is clear that the Scottish Government underestimated the blow-back it would receive in response to Megrahi’s release and is now trying to paint itself as the victim. It seems likely, especially given the increasing speculation that the UK Government had a hand in the decision, that Prime Minister Brown will have to address the issue publicly. Meanwhile, local Scottish opposition politicians are trying to undercut the SNP minority government’s credibility as much as possible.
12. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
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