Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 18:54 UK

Majority 'oppose' Megrahi release

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi being interviewed on Libyan television
Magrahi served eight years in Scottish prisons after being convicted in 2001

Only a third of Scots believe the Lockerbie bomber should have been freed from prison last week, a poll commissioned by BBC News has suggested.

The ICM Research survey indicated almost three quarters thought Scotland's reputation was damaged by Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's release.

But only 36% thought Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill should quit.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said Mr MacAskill had shown "guts" in making a hard but correct decision.

Mr MacAskill announced on 20 August that Megrahi, who is terminally-ill with prostate cancer, would be freed on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya.

Alex Salmond said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has his ''100% backing''

He had served eight years of a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the town of Lockerbie, in southern Scotland, in which 270 people died.

A random sample of 1,005 adults from across Scotland were questioned by telephone on Wednesday and Thursday.

The survey found 60% thought the Scottish Government was wrong to release Megrahi, against 32% of respondents who believed it was the right decision.

Of those polled, 57% believed Megrahi should have remained in prison until he died, while 37% thought he should have been released at some point prior to his death.

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor

It may not last. It may fade. But, right now, people in Scotland seem decidedly hostile to the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Opposition to the particular decision taken by Kenny MacAskill is nearly two to one. Even offered options, a majority say that the Libyan should never have been released from jail.

Intriguingly, glancing at the figures in more detail, opinion against release appears particularly strong among younger people, with the elderly more inclined towards compassionate release.

But, in all age groups, more oppose the decision than support it.

Despite Mr MacAskill's insistence to the contrary, more than two thirds of those questioned - 68% - thought the decision was influenced by factors other than Megrahi's health, while only 20% believed it was made purely on compassionate grounds.

Mr MacAskill's controversial meeting with Megrahi in Greenock Prison on 4 August was also unpopular, according to the poll, with 52% believing the visit should not have taken place, and 36% saying it should.

The justice secretary has claimed the visit was required under the terms of the Libyan government's prisoner transfer request, but this has been disputed by opposition politicians

Almost three quarters of those polled (74%) said the affair had damaged the standing of the Scottish Government in the eyes of voters, with the same proportion believing the release of Megrahi had damaged Scotland's reputation.

Only 11% said it had enhanced the reputation of the country, while 10% said it had made no difference one way or the other.

MEGRAHI POLL

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also apparently been damaged by the controversy over the release of Megrahi, despite his insistence that it was purely a matter for the Scottish government.

The poll suggested that 34% believed Mr Brown's reputation had been damaged "a lot", with a further 33% saying it had been damaged "a little".

But only 29% of those surveyed said the prime minister had not been damaged.

A minority of people - 39% - said they thought the UK government should have tried to influence the decision by the Scottish Government, while 52% said it was right not to get involved.

Responding to the poll findings, First Minister Alex Salmond stood by his justice minister.

He said: "I acknowledge that these were difficult, controversial decisions but somebody had to take a decision and it fell to the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, to do so.

"Sometimes in life and politics and in government, there's no easy option available. You have to take hard choices because you think and believe you're doing the right thing and you know it just takes guts to govern sometimes and Kenny MacAskill showed that."

Charts from BBC/ICM poll

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray called on Mr Salmond to explain how he would repair Scotland's damaged reputation.

He added "I believe the whole process was mishandled from start to finish and a clear majority say it was wrong for Mr MacAskill to visit Megrahi in prison. Kenny MacAskill must return to the parliament to justify his mishandling of this affair."

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the findings showed the Scottish Government was wrong to release Megrahi - and she demanded to know what "murky deals have been going on behind the scenes".

For the Liberal Democrats, MSP Mike Rumbles said the poll confirmed public anger at the SNP's handling of the affair and its failure to address other options for the "compassionate" treatment of Megrahi.

Megrahi, who has always maintained his innocence, was the only person convicted over the Lockerbie bombing.

He returned to a hero's welcome in Libya after being released from Greenock Prison.

The release sparked widespread criticism in the UK, as well as from US politicians, law enforcement agencies and victims' relatives.

An internet campaign was also launched calling on Americans to boycott Scottish and UK goods over the release.

Charts from BBC/ICM poll



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