BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Holyrood tackles trams and Libya
By John Knox
Political reporter, BBC Scotland

Sitting in a Bedouin tent in Libya, it may have seemed like a good idea.
Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond made an urgent statement to parliament

But Tony Blair's memorandum of understanding with Colonel Gaddafi has caused the biggest rift with Holyrood since devolution.

It is ironic indeed that the man who gave us devolution is now the man who has done so much to damage it.

All parties have united to condemn the fact that Scotland was not consulted over what looks like the beginning of a handover process which will see the Lockerbie bomber returned to Libya.

Poor Tony Blair. There he was, just trying to bring Colonel Gaddafi in from the desert - and win a few oil contracts, sign a few treaties.

He just plain forgot that a memorandum on extradition and prisoner transfer might just include a chap in white robes in Greenock Prison, convicted of Britain's worst ever terrorist atrocity.

And he just plain forgot that Alex Salmond was the first minister responsible for keeping him safely locked up.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi is serving a 27-year jail sentence for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire on 21 December 1988.

"The lack of prior consultation on this issue is clearly unacceptable," Mr Salmond told parliament in an emergency statement just before 5pm on Thursday.

"Decisions on any individual case will continue to be made following the due process of Scots law."

Spiderweb competition

Labour's Jack McConnell said; "As the previous first minister, I would have expected no less than prior consultation."

Annabel Goldie for the Conservatives said: "Tony Blair has ridden roughshod over devolution and has treated with contempt Scotland's distinct and independent legal system."

Of course, in the world of diplomacy and politics, all is not what it seems. The memorandum story was being spun around Holyrood and Westminster like a spiderweb competition.

The Foreign Office was saying the memorandum did not apply necessarily to Megrahi, that it was all at an early stage and it included a clause about the agreement of the three jurisdictions within the United Kingdom, and nothing would be possible before the outcome of the judicial review of the Megrahi case was known.

The SNP were saying that they only found out about the memorandum from a stray e-mail in the prisons department.

It was apparently the talk of the bazaar in Tripoli and thus Mr Salmond thought it should be mentioned to the British people.

The government will consider rules over DNA retention

There have been rows between London and Edinburgh before. Remember Iraq, Trident, immigration, fishing, foot and mouth, even the Union itself.

But this row has united the Holyrood parties and it comes at the very beginning of a separatist administration.

The fact that Alex Salmond was not congratulated by Tony Blair on becoming first minister begins to look deliberate.

Depressing as all this may seem for devolution, Jack McConnell tried to be positive at question time.

He put forward a suggestion that Scotland should follow the example of England and Wales and allow the police to keep DNA samples from all accused people.

At the moment in Scotland, the police can only retain DNA from those accused of serious violent and sexual crimes. And they have to destroy the samples after three years, because of concerns over human rights.

Alex Salmond said he would consider Mr McConnell's idea, in a spirit of consensus, but he couldn't help remarking that if it was such a good idea, why hadn't Labour implemented it?

Annabel Goldie attacked the SNP's plan to abolish short-term prison sentences. The idea is to substitute community service for sentences under six months.

Alex Salmond said 10% of the inmates in Barlinnie jail were there for fine defaults of less than 300.

"Given that it costs 700 a week to keep someone in prison, it cannot be to the public benefit having people in prison who evidently shouldn't be there," he remarked.

Great cheer

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary put it more colourfully when he outlined the plan to MSPs on Wednesday: "Prison should be reserved for serious offenders, not the flotsam and jetsam of society."

He also announced that he is to go ahead with the previous administration's plan to publish the names and pictures of sex offenders who do not abide by their supervision conditions.

He is also planning to track them by satellite and to subject them to lie detectors.

And no week of the new consensus politics would be complete without its rows.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon certainly caused one when she announced a reprieve for the emergency and accident units at Ayr and Monklands hospitals.

A great cheer rang out from the coach loads of campaigners who had come all the way to Holyrood to watch the announcement from the public gallery.

But former health minister Labour's Andy Kerr said: "It will put patients lives at risk."

No one is clear what services will have to be cut to pay for retaining the two units. That will be decided by the local health boards and be subject to a new panel of independent experts.

The other row was over the Edinburgh tram scheme and the rail link to Edinburgh airport.

Monklands Hospital
Nicola Sturgeon decided saved A&E departments

Transport minister Stewart Stevenson announced that he was "inviting" the auditor general to examine the 600m cost of each project. He will report back by 20 June.

The Scottish Executive only survived a vote of censure on the issue with the help of the Conservatives.

The new committee structure at Holyrood was finally approved on Thursday afternoon.

The committees do not have much to do at the moment. The "engine room" will only grind into action when the new executive actually produces detailed policies.

There are to be 15 committees with eight MSPs on each.

Finally, the new Environment Minister Mike Russell has launched the world's first national "Fossil Code".

He was rather excited and, speaking at the Dynamic Earth centre across the road from Holyrood, he managed to say: "The fossil heritage of Scotland is incredibly important."

Gosh. I wonder what a well behaved fossil hunter will think of him when he finds his skeleton in 500 million years from now.

And will the minister still be clutching that mobile phone, briefing a journalist who has been completely forgotten by time?


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific