22 July 2010

Megrahi: Scotland 's reputation "on the world stage"

Just another short thought for today.

For those Scots hostile to the compassionate Megrahi, they often see Scotland as a besmirched player on the world's stage, arguing that she has become a tatterdemalion figure, robbed of her dignity by the decision, stripped bosom-bare before the judgemental eyes of the American world clothed only in the rags of rent reputation. Certainly, Cameron did his weather best to contribute to this impression during his tea culpas during the recent White House conference. The media does its part in the production of this orthodoxy, however. You might recall how, at the time, the BBC had crews shuffling up and down Edinburgh's Royal Mile looking for holidaying Americans to be the voice of their nation and offer their commentary on the release of Megrahi. Some had views, clearly informed by an antecedent knowledge of the case. Many, it seemed to me, gave the answers that they felt were expected of them. The interviewers assumed that the Americans would have a position, and whether out of politeness or embarrassment, they dutifully produced one. 

In recent days and at the time of the compassionate release, I've asked various American friends and acquaintances about the Lockerbie case and their views, if any, on Megrahi's dying liberty. It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that a significant number had never even heard of Pan Am Flight 103 and its melancholy fate over the skies of Lockerbie in 1988. Or if they had, their views were not stridently formed. None thought to mention Scotland's reputation. They were not outraged, merely rather confused by what coverage they had encountered, knowing few of the details, facts or circumstances implicated in the event or the subsequent trial of suspects. I'm not about to make any great generalisation from this small sample of opinion. However, it gives the lie to any straightforward belief that the whole of America is a roiling pool of outrage against Scotland. While parts of the media may be more informed and more interested - and consequently the subject may have predominated during Cameron's visit to the United States - the thesis that releasing Megrahi has shamed Scotland in any general American sense hardly seems made out at all.  And let's face it, from what I gather about the cynical instrumental world of international diplomacy, invocations of shame at the highest political level are calculated political and geo-political appeals, rather than the spontaneous outburst of emotionally-charged national affront and revulsion which they pretend to represent.


  1. Father MacKenzie22 July 2010 at 11:37

    I agree, I went on holiday to New York last year shortly after his release, and from the news coverage was fully expecting this to be a pressing issue I would have to debate with many an American who heard my accent or otherwise established that I was Scottish.

    It came up a grand total of 0 times, the burning question on (almost) every American's lips was whether or not I had seen Braveheart and subsequent questions about independence from England, with a smattering of questions about golf and one rather baffling "Is it true what they say about Scotland Yard?"

  2. Given my own experiences at the time and of late, I'm not entirely surprised to hear that Father MacKenzie, even in New York. If anyone else has similar - or needless to say radically different experiences - I'd be interested to hear them.

  3. A rather rabid commenter over at Mark's hoped we skirt wearing pussies would suffer a terrorist attack, and see how we would like it...

  4. Michty me. What a charming and erudite fellow he must be!