2 August 2010

Eck's sharper epistle to Senator Menendez...

Today, the Scottish Government published Alex Salmond's reply to the junior American Senator from  New Jersey, Robert Menendez. The tone, I fancy, is rather frostier and more assertive than the firm but more cautious correspondence previously published between the Scottish Government and the American politicians. Quite right too. While Salmond was given a fair right of reply, during Menendez' recent Newsnight interview, Gavin Essler treated him - the prime US agitator and scandalmonger - rather too deferentially for my taste, dignifying he and his colleages' wild conspiratorial conceits and  the baseless allegations they have made against the Scottish Government in general and the quiet Dr Fraser in particular. 

Don't take my word for it. Just watch this footage of the senators at work at the beginning of this revived controversy. Their patent bad faith should have been exposed, not quietly ignored. Their faux judicious masks should be pulled off to reveal their clowning faces -  not painted and lacquered by a supine press.    If I was less polite, I'd describe all four as preening media hoors. Happily, my sense of decorum overcomes even my disgust at the purloined grief and slanderous, stamping falsehoods being spun by Menendez, Lauterberg, Schumer and Gillibrand, apparently for personal political advantage in imminent American elections. Lucky that.

Dear Senator Menendez

Thank you for your letter of 29 July.

I have made clear in my letters to you and to Senator Kerry that the Scottish Government's decision to decline your previous invitation for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Dr Fraser to attend a hearing in the US was based on principle rather than on any issue of practicality.

The most appropriate way for us to assist the Foreign Relations Committee is to provide a statement of the position of the Scottish Government, as I have done, and to answer any questions that the Committee may have in writing, as we have also done.

Scottish Ministers and public officials are properly accountable to the Scottish Parliament and not to other legislatures. It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which serving members of the US Government would agree to appear as witnesses in hearings or inquiries held by the legislature of another country, and there are many high-profile and indeed current examples of the US Government declining such invitations.

Your letter again seeks to link BP with the decision made by the Scottish Government to grant Mr Al-Megrahi compassionate release. No-one has produced any evidence of such a link because there is none. We have said repeatedly that there has never, at any point, been any contact between BP and the Scottish Government in relation to Al-Megrahi. The statements we have made on this issue are entirely clear and consistent.

It was with concern that I watched you attempt to insinuate such a link on BBC Newsnight on 30th July by citing a letter from Conservative Party peer Lord Trefgarne, the chair of the Libyan British Business Council, to Justice Secretary MacAskill last year. This was one of approximately one thousand representations received by the Scottish Government last year, including many from the USA. You have this letter because the Scottish Government published this last year as part of our comprehensive issue of documentation related to the decision. That being the case, you must also have seen the reply from Mr MacAskill, also published, which stated that his decisions would be "based on judicial grounds alone and economic and political considerations have no part in the process". In order to avoid any suggestion of misrepresentation, I trust that you will include that fact in future references.

BP's admitted lobbying on this issue referred to the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) and with the UK Government. As you must by now be aware, the Scottish Government opposed this agreement from its inception, a position that we have maintained publicly and privately since. Indeed, I revealed the existence of the proposed PTA to the Scottish Parliament in a statement on 7 June 2007. It is perhaps to be regretted that our warnings about the circumstances in which this agreement came into being found no response at that time from the UK Government, the then opposition in the UK Parliament, or indeed from the United States Senate.

Finally, you and some of your Senatorial colleagues, have suggested that the Scottish Government have sought to pass responsibility to others for the release of Al-Megrahi. That is simply not the case. Secretary MacAskill took the decision following the precepts and due process of Scots law and jurisdiction - the same jurisdiction which over a period of some 20 years led Scotland to play the leading role in investigating, trying, convicting and incarcerating Al-Megrahi. We do not resile from our responsibility in making that decision.

The point we make is a different but a quite simple one. Please do not ascribe to the Scottish Government economic or commercial motives for this decision when there is no evidence whatsoever for such a claim.

If you wish to investigate commercial or indeed other motivations surrounding this case, then call the former UK Ministers and Prime Ministers who were involved in proposing, negotiating and then signing the PTA and, of course, where there is a public record of admission that business and trade, along with other issues, were factors. In this light your decision not to proceed with the draft invitation to offer evidence to former Prime Minister Blair, who actually signed the proposed PTA in May 2007, seems puzzling.

These people, of course, may have had, and indeed in some cases have conceded, motivations other than justice considerations. However, they did not take the decision on Mr Megrahi.

I am copying this letter to Senator Kerry.



  1. LPW

    A very good letter, with all the important points well made.

    It is now time for Alex Salmond to "take the gloves off" with the BBC, and to write often to the BBC Trust, trust, some mistake there, about the total distortion of their presentation of the Al-Megrahi case.

  2. Quite right too. I've avoided blogging about this issue for the sheer fact that I'm still fuming about the US's clear double standards in assuming they can force our representatives in front of their committees when none of them will come over here and face the music for friendly fire deaths.

    If I had been Salmond, my words would not have been quite so polite - indeed, there would probably have been quite a lot of ********s to make it slightly more acceptable. But in this letter, he hammers home the point - and surely now, the message is across!

  3. Bravo Alex, but like Dubbieside and your good self have intimated, it really is time that the BBC and meeja in general were taken to task for their own failures to identify and expose the falsehoods in these accusations against the Scottish government. This could of course only be possible if we actually had informed and impartial journalists working on matters of International significance, rather than the failed party hacks we appear to have.

  4. I suspect that the Government goading the BBC directly might prove rather counter-productive, Dubbieside. As I noted, what concerns me is that these senators have been allowed to present the themselves as quasi-heroic, humble and dogged truthseekers. Perhaps a little confused on the details, but hey - they're only American, what can one expect? That is both patronising and absurd.

    Consider a parallel and cast yourself back to the Obama/Cameron press conference where they jauntily flayed Scottish Ministers. Imagine if Alex Salmond had responded by invoking the birther conspiracy, refuting Barack Obama's criticism by echoing, without evidence, the that he was not born in Hawaii and hence was no US citizen and constitutionally wasn't entitled to be American president. How long do you think the refrain "Questions must be answered..." might stave off criticism of such an approach?

    In any case, I imagine you'll find the tenor of today's Scotsman editorial on the subject more satisfactory.

  5. You absolutely should blog about it, Malcolm. Righteous fury can be a powerful spur to eloquence. And every little paper cut helps. While I find myself more vexed by the baselessness of the Senators' serious allegations than the hypocrisy angle, you certainly have a point. While I can appreciate the urge to tell the US representatives to take a long walk off a short plank - spiced up with a choice, well-deployed profanity or two - doing so would have undoubtedly been domestically difficult for the Scottish Government. You can surely imagine the lofty denunciations which would appear in the Times, citing amateurism, unstatesmanlike conduct and all of the other lazy cynicisms which sections of the media and critical parties attach to the SNP so readily. In any case, pointedly false incredulity and ironic sangfroid is far more amusing, since everyone reads your *****s into the text anyway.

  6. On the more positive side, Jim, at least these days folk can examine much of the material which the press base their reports on themselves, if they're so minded. Although I'm not suggesting that equal numbers do so, the resources are often there, such that even a very part-time blogger such as myself can point folk to materials which the mainstream media skirt over or miss. That doesn't blunt your critique - but it at least makes for spaces in which alternatives views can find expression and enter the public record, for those minded to seek them out. That seems to me at least mildly encouraging.

  7. LPW

    I must admit to being confused by your reply to my "It is now time for Alex Salmond to "take the gloves off" with the BBC"

    I want Alex Salmond to fight for what is right for Scotland, that after all is what he was elected to do. I would like to see the SNP government being far more aggressive with their responses to the BBC for the bias and total negativity that they show on an almost daily basis.

    The BBC is publicly funded and has a duty (supposedly) of impartiality, its long past time that they fulfilled that duty as far as Scotland is concerned. If the only way that the SNP can highlight the BBC shortcomings is by official complaints to the BBC Trust, then that is the route, that in my view they should take.

  8. P.S. While there are more obviously tart, quoteable sections of the letter, personally, there seemed to me to be something wonderfully blunt about the tone of the last line:

    "I am copying this letter to Senator Kerry."

    While an innocuous enough phrase of itself, in my mind it fell like a dull, wearily condescending thud at the bottom of the page.

  9. I can understand your position, Dubbieside. What I meant by my first response - "I suspect that the Government goading the BBC directly might prove rather counter-productive..." - is that confrontation of the sort you describe is notoriously difficult to effect successfully. That is, if it is not to become a millstone for your own neck and actively hamper rather than facilitate putting your views and analysis across. I was merely sounding a wee note of caution.

  10. LPW

    Is three years not long enough to be cautious?

    We have put up with the BBC bias for far to long. Maybe Alex Salmond though that by being reasonable to the BBC they would reciprocate. Fat chance of that with Wark Campbell etc.

    They need to complain loud and often, turning the other cheek only means you get smacked along the face on both sides.