By Rory Reynolds
VETERAN Scottish Labour politician Malcolm Chisholm MSP shocked spectators at Holyrood yesterday by turning on his own party during a live debate on the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber.
Chisholm commended Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s actions in freeing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – saying he appreciated the level of pressure the Cabinet Secretary has been put under.
Along with the political parties he focused on the “shameful and insensitive” welcome that al-Megrahi received on arriving in Tripoli on Thursday night.
But he excused the Government for scenes at airport in which thousands of Libyans cheered on the return of al-Megrahi – some of them waving Saltire flags.He added: “There is no one in this parliament that could have done anything to stop the embarrassment of that scene in Tripoli.”
Scottish Labour party leader Iain Gray took a soft line on Chisholm’s actions, saying that it was a divisive issue and a “matter of conscience”.
He said: “This is a very difficult decision and people are bound to take different views on it.
“I’ve made clear that I would have struck a different balance from the one that Mr MacAskill took.
“I believe compassion for the families of the victims of the Lockerbie disaster.
“Malcolm has taken a different view and it’s one of these matters that’s really of conscience – I don’t have a problem with it at all.”
Chisholm was alone in his support of the SNP administration – with the main parties launching vicious attacks on the actions of the Justice Secretary.
Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott slammed MacAskill’s move to announce the release during parliamentary recess – demanding to know “why did the Government make this decision in the basement of St Andrews House?”
The most acidic attack of the debate came from Justice Committee Convenor Bill Aitken, who blasted the SNP Government as being “stitched up and used as pawns” because of their “political naivety and inexperience.”